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It Can Vanish in an Instant, So How are Scientists Studying It?

The beauty of one of nature’s living creatures rivals that of one of its most sought-after gems in the magical sea sapphire. Imagine a sea creature with deep blue iridescence so intense that geological sapphires pale in comparison. The elusive sea sapphire winks in and out of visibility like a miniscule, aquatic superhero. This enigmatic creature has scientists studying how humans can utilize its ability to radiate luminescence and then disappear.

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Mating Dance

Sea sapphires, scientifically known as Sapphirina copepods, are tiny crustaceans that inhabit the ocean’s waters from the surface to 1,000 feet deep in various parts of the world. Only the males exhibit bright colors ranging from gold to sapphire blue. As they swim in spiral patterns, the creatures alternate between shimmering brilliantly and winking into invisibility. Lia Addadi at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science theorizes that the dazzling underwater dances of the males attract mates.

Secrets of Luminescence and Invisibility

R.R. Helm in Deep Sea News points out that the secret of the sea sapphire’s brilliant display and ability to vanish lies in the layers of crystal plates within its cells. The infinitesimal yet precise separation between the cell layers accounts for the coloration. In blue sea sapphires, the gap specifically allows wavelengths of blue light to reflect off the creature’s transparent body, but when the light is not direct, the reflection ceases, and the sea sapphire seems to disappear.

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How to Use the Magic

Scientists study the reflective qualities of sea sapphires to find practical applications in optical technologies such as mirrors, coatings on glasses and display systems, reports the American Chemical Society. The more speculative scientists postulate cloaking technology such as the invisibility cloak of Harry Potter or James Bond’s vanishing BMW, according to Megan Chen for Oceanbites.

Although sea sapphires dazzle observers with their gem-like brilliance, they’re elusive and seldom seen. Those of lighter colors tend to inhabit surface waters, while those of darker shades of violet, magenta and blue swim deeper in shorter wavelengths of light. Still, they sometimes amaze observers with breathtaking displays that resemble animate jewelry.

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