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Why Does Everything Look Green Through Night Vision Goggles?

The characteristic green tint is by design, for a few reasons. First, device makers have experimented with a few different colors and found that the different shades that make up the monochrome night vision image are most accurately perceived and distinguished when they’re green. In other words, while the night vision images you’ve seen in Silence of the Lambs and Call of Duty might seem a little clunky, green presents a night vision device wearer with the most accurate and user-friendly picture possible. What’s more, because the eye is most sensitive to light wavelengths near 555 nanometers - that is, green - the display can be a little dimmer, which conserves battery power.

Who Invented Night Vision?

The first practical night vision devices were developed in Germany in the mid-1930s and were used by both German tanks and infantry during World War II. U.S. Military scientists had simultaneously developed their own night vision devices that first saw use during WWII and the Korean War.

These “Generation 0” devices used active infrared to brighten up a scene. Soldiers carried an IR illuminator to shoot a beam of near-infrared light that then reflected off objects and bounced back to the lens of their scope and created a visible image of what they were looking at. The illuminators used by the German Nachtjägers, or "night hunters", were about the size of dinner plates and required a large power supply carried on the soldier’s back.

The technology made huge leaps in the following decades, and by the time the U.S. entered the Vietnam War, many troops were outfitted with passive "starlight scopes" that used image-intensifying tubes to amplify available ambient light (usually from the moon and stars, hence the name) and produce an electronic image of a dark area.

This “Generation 1” technology is still around today in the more budget-friendly consumer-grade night vision devices. Military and police forces have upgraded to successive generations of tech with new improvements over the years, but image intensifying night vision - there’s also another flavor, thermal imaging, but image intensification is almost always the kind you see in movies and games - still works on the same basic principles as these early models.

I Can See Clearly Now

The lens or lenses at the end of a night vision scope or pair of goggles gather available light, including some from the lower spectrum of invisible infrared, and focus it on a photocathode on the device’s image intensifier tube, which transforms the photons, or light particles, into electrons.

As the electrons move through the tube, they flow through a microchannel plate, which is a disc with millions of tiny holes, or microchannels, in it. As the electrons strike electrodes on the microchannels, bursts of voltage cause the motion of electrons to increase rapidly, forming a dense clouds of electrons that intensifies the original image.

At the far end of the tube, the electrons hit a screen coated with a phosphor, which is a substance that radiates visible light after being energized. (We talked about phosphors in relation to glow-in-the-dark toys a while ago.) The energy from the electrons excites the phosphor which converts the electrons back into photons. These are in the same alignment as the photons that originally entered the tube, and form the greenish image on the screen inside the viewing lens of the device.

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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane
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What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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