Ok so I thought it was necessary to make this response a post of its own… continued from here.
Edit: I added some info from commenters clearing up some things and cleaned up the format a bit.
Here’s What Wi-Fi Would Look Like If We Could See It
(Wildcat2030, I love you but I just- I just gotta debunk the crap out of this real quick)…
Wi-fi. It’s all around us, quietly and invisibly powering our access to the world’s information. But few of us have a sense of what wi-fi actually is, let alone what it would look like if we could see it. Artist Nickolay Lamm, a blogger for MyDeals.com, decided to shed some light on the subject. He created visualizations that imagine the size, shape, and color of wi-fi signals were they visible to the human eye. “I feel that by showing what wi-fi would look like if we could see it, we’d appreciate the technology that we use everyday,” Lamm told me in an email. “A lot of us use technology without appreciating the complexity behind making it work.” To estimate what this would look like, Lamm worked with M. Browning Vogel, Ph.D., an astrobiologist and former employee at NASA Ames. Dr. Vogel described the science behind wireless technology, and Lamm used the information to create the visualizations. (via Here’s What Wi-Fi Would Look Like If We Could See It | Motherboard) (Nah, don’t even click this link. What are you thinking?)
Here’s all the reasons why this article is entirely wrong. It’s really really wrong:
The wifi range is just another set of wavelengths. In other words, it would be a continuation of what we can already see in the electromagnetic spectrum. Since color varies with wavelength, it is only reasonable to assume that wifi/radio/any electromagnetic source would look like any other light source with a different (new) color of light.
And, since at wifi wavelengths the waves are not absorbed by walls and stuff, we’d be able to see these electromagnetic sources through walls. It would be like the walls were clear to that particular color of light, just like how certain substances, like glass, do not absorb wavelengths in the visual spectrum.
The minimum threshold for the perception of light is very very low, on the order of 10^-15 watts. My own router broadcasts at 60mw. Laser pointers are eye-safe around 5mw, and lasers past 30mw are used for cool lighting effects for stages and stuff, so routers would also be powerful enough for us to see.
Sources: Engineering physics courses, electronics courses (covering optoelectronic devices like photodiodes and laser diodes) and a couple minutes on Google to tie it all together. Let me know if I’ve gotten anything very wrong.
And don’t forget that this article offers no reasoning beyond “it’s from a NASA astrobiologist” for its validity.
(^Yes^ comsmicmachinery, I don’t even know you but I love you!)
This was bugging me too…
I know the artist deserves some artistic leeway but these illustrations are so wrong it hurts me.
And I’m pretty sure most Wifi signals are the same wavelength, so if we could see it, it would just be the same color, whatever that may be to our brains.
— But the artist had to use some color that we could already see. Like me trying to point to the 4th dimension (impossible btw) but in this case trying to show a new color. —
Edit — Clarification from enki2:
Wifi doesn’t actually stick to a single wavelength; one of the big and interesting advances in wifi is that it combines separate signals on completely different frequency ranges and switches them up in a complex way as a mechanism for collision avoidance.
(So I it does use different wavelengths. I’ll assume that the frequency modulation would result in shifting colors from white to any other combination but this would also happen very quickly)
Maybe a little variances but I’m not an expert on this stuff (<— this is important for the rest of the article). Since we are talking about perception of color, check out this epic video by Vsauce. Ok, back to the wifi thing.
The electromagnetic spectrum for reference…
(yea, we are basically blind)
Also, the waves wouldn’t just sit on the ground like some sort of fog like in the pic below. Wifi is just like any other electromagnetic signal and will radiate all around.
And I can hardly get a signal in my own damn house sometimes, so I really doubt you would be able to see wifi signals far away from you. Unless maybe you were near some cell phone tower, which would be blindingly bright (in that new color or a combination of new colors) if you stood next to it. And as the person above explained, your router would glow brightly as well, along with anything that emitted that wavelength and made it to your eye.
So walking into a mall and shopping would be difficult (or just approaching one and trying to find the entrance since the signals go through walls) considering they are usually filled with these signals and shopping with a flood-light in front of your face is kind of hard (not speaking from experience).
The artist stresses that you would be able to see the crests of the waves themselves. No, these are not something physical just floating around in space as if it was a magical ribbon flying around. No, other light waves are not bouncing off these waves illuminating the crests and troughs allowing us to see the different parts of the waves.The only reason you can see something is because a protein in your eyeball just got blasted with a photon and eventually caused a neuron in your brain to fire. The same thing would go on here, just with a different wavelength.
That pond of water right there wouldn’t be reflecting that wifi-light either. If we were seeing only those wavelengths, the pond would be black because it absorbs them (see spectra below), otherwise it would just be the blue color we normally see. It might be darkened a bit depending on how our brains would interpret seeing both the reflecting blue-light and the absence of the wifi-light.
And according to this…
So what kind of energies are we looking at in WiFi signals? WiFi operates in the 2.4 GHz frequency range, the same as a microwave oven. The wavelength of that light is about 12.5 centimeters, which is about 125 million nanometers.
…wifi uses the same wavelength as a microwave oven, and I know cell phones use the microwave part of the spectrum as well (or about the same wavelengths, just depends on the phone I guess — but why would you evolve to only see ONE particular wavelength anyway, amiright?). So you would also be able to see cell phone signals too.
I guess the sky would just be filled with this new color, unless maybe it was humid or raining, because water absorbs those wavelengths (see the spectra above). Now you know why you get bad reception in rain.
That’s how your microwave works by the way. Also, water absorbs blue the least, that’s why it looks blue to us — It would look crazy to bees (normal to them anyway) since they can see Ultraviolet to ~1mm wavelengths (radar).
Also your microwave, when turned on, would not glow in this new color. You ever wonder why that mesh is there on the door? That keeps the microwaves in!
Anyway, off track there for a second. Since we are just talking about the sky, the night sky would be completely different if you could see these waves.
The reason the night sky isn’t filled completely with stars is that the further away something is, the faster it is moving away from you and thus the light it emits gets red-shifted (here is an excellent post on that).
Oh look! Microwaves are basically a really-really red-shifted wavelength.
See the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation oh and MASERS in space are a thing too (like LASERS but with Microwaves).
And it seems radio waves and microwaves are able to make it through our atmosphere (if only a small amount), so you would be able to see more objects in the sky. That is, assuming you could differentiate from all of the other man-made signals flying around.
Because of this red-shifting, right now when you look up at night, you are only seeing stars in our own galaxy the Milky Way and a few other things like the Andromeda galaxy but most of it is from our galaxy. — (fun fact: we will crash into Andromeda eventually) — So being able to see this red-shifted wavelength allows you to see more objects that are further away AND those objects in a completely different light… literally.
One of the many reasons we have different telescopes that use different wavelengths is so we can see different things. — Here is a cool tool showing the different telescopes we have and the light they see in.— As soon as we starting looking at the Milky Way core in infrared for example, we can see through all of the dust in the way, allowing us to make this gorgeous 9gigapixel image of our galaxy.
Now THAT is fucking awesome! So whoever the artist was on this, take some notes and try again. Courtesy of: SCIENCE!