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    Posted on Nov 19, 2014

    The One Thing You Never Noticed About Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night"

    Best Easter Egg ever. H/T Upworthy.

    This wonderful TedEd lesson is given by Natalya St Clair, with animation by Avi Ofer.

    View this video on YouTube

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    Here come the GIFs...

    Turbulent flow in fluid dynamics is a very difficult mathematical concept to understand.

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    As the video says, German physicist Werner Heisenberg famously said, “When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first.”

    However, it can be depicted in art. And 125 years ago, someone did exactly this, and for many years no one noticed.

    Van Gogh's most famous painting was created in the Saint Paul de Maussole asylum, in 1889.

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    He'd admitted himself there after cutting his ear off.

    One of the key aspects of Impressionism is the way it captures the way light moves.

    As the video has it, "Here, in starlight that twinkles and melts, through milky waves of blue night sky."

    This effect is caused by luminance.

    The primitive part of our visual cortex sees light contrast but won't see colour. It'll blend differently-coloured areas if they have the same luminance. But another part of our brain sees the colours separately.

    And that's what makes the light appear to flicker in Impressionist work.

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    While the image's shapes might not seem entirely realistic, the movement of the light in these paintings most assuredly can be.

    Fast forward 60 years, and mathematician Andrey Kolmogorov had a theory for how turbulence worked.

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    The short version is, as the video has it: "Big eddies transfer their energy to smaller eddies, which do likewise, at other scales."

    It goes on to describe how in 2004 scientists saw a cloud of dust and gas around a star through the Hubble space telescope. More scientists studied Van Gogh's paintings and found the structures of turbulence were close to Kolmogorov's equations.

    The paintings that behaved in this way all came from the most turbulent period in his life.

    The video concludes:

    While it's too easy to say Van Gogh's turbulent genius enabled him to depict turbulence, it's also far too difficult to accurately express the rousing beauty of the fact that in a period of intense suffering, Van Gogh was somehow able to perceive and represent one of the most supremely difficult concepts nature has ever brought before mankind, and to unite his mind's eye with the deepest mysteries of movement, fluid and light.

    Want more? Here's a mosaic of Starry Night created through Hubble images.

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