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SCIENCE REPORT – March 21, 2002: Color of the Universe - 2002-03-19

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

What is the color of the universe? Astronomers had not answered this question until two months ago. That is when two American astronomers reported on their study of all the light in the universe. They said that the universe would appear to the human eye to be a light greenish color, called turquoise.

Karl Glazebrook and Ivan Baldry of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, reported their finding in January. They presented research at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. They said that finding the color of the universe was not part of their more serious scientific research. They did it for fun.

However, earlier this month, the scientists admitted to making a mistake. They said their finding was much more colorful than it should have been. They now say the light from our universe is closer to white. It is more like a milky or creamy white color.

Their study attempted to show what people might see if they could observe the universe from far away. The scientists found the average color by combining light from about two-hundred-thousand star systems. Their information came from an observatory in New South Wales, Australia.

The scientists gave a number value to the colors of the different star systems. Then they added the numbers together and found the average measurement. The scientists used this average to identify the color of the universe. They said it was a very pretty light green or turquoise color. They called it “cosmic spectrum green.” Many newspapers and television stations reported their finding.

Other scientists and color engineers attempted to reproduce the result. Mark Fairchild of the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York was the first person to identify a mistake. He discovered a mistake in the computer software program used by the Johns Hopkins scientists.

When the mistake was corrected, the results changed. The new color of the universe is much less colorful. It is very close to white.

The scientists have apologized for the mistake. They are now working with the Rochester Institute of Technology to produce more images of the color of the universe.

They also asked for suggestions for a name for the new color of the universe.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by George Grow.