Friday, January 4, 2013

Labradorescence... Though the Eye of a Flatbed Scanner

4 separate scans - shot from 4 different angles - of a labradorite pendant cabochon
(click to enlarge)

"An Inuit legend says that long ago the Northern Lights fell from the sky and were trapped inside some rocks off the coast of Labrador. One day, an Inuit warrior came upon these rocks and tried to set the Northern Lights free. With blows from his spear, he was able to release most of the lights, but some still remained to be permanently imprisoned within the rocks. The trapped Northern Lights are what give the stone we know today as labradorite its brilliant flashes of light and color."

- Labradorite lore via this web page

"Labradorescence is a side-effect of the molecular change which occurs in large crystal masses of anorthosite, producing an iridescent play of colors. This labradorescence, or schiller effect, is the result of light diffraction within the lamellar intergrowths – fine, adjacent layers of the separate materials (lamellae) comprising the whole rock phase – created when conditions do not allow for sufficient diffusion to the materials' equilibrium composition.

The cause of this optical phenomenon is phase exsolution, or phase (state) instability, occurring in the Bøggild miscibility gap (An48-An58); under the appropriate heat and pressure conditions the separate molecular components will coexist but not mix to a solution, producing the phenomenon."

- Via Wiki's labradorite entry

"Labradorite is said to represent the "temple of the stars"... It brings the light of the other planetary beings to the soul of the user. The labradorescence is a luminescence, derived from extraterrestrial origin, which is enclosed in the mineral to bring the galactic evolved energies from other worlds to the Earth plane."

- Via this web page


Originally this post was going to welcome in the new year and feature a long-standing work in progress, "Labradorite Window". Well, that was the plan, at any rate. But, as it so happened, and so often happens, neither the image (nor the order of the day) really cooperated, while, at the same time, something new was added to the mix. That is, the above scan - of a favorite pendant of mine - representing yet another facet of a mysterious gem, known as labradorite.

Labradorite is named for the area it was "discovered" in 1770: Labrador, Canada. In reality, however, it has been found in numerous places, and traced as far back in time as the ancient Greeks, who knew it as "Black Moonstone".

I've only known about labradorite for around 15 years, finding my first piece - a sphere - in a metaphysical book shop here in CT. I stared at it for a long time initially, thinking I must be hallucinating, it was that unearthly beautiful. I felt a similar awe when I encountered my first comb jelly years before (see here). Maybe it's just something about flashes of electric blue light found in unlikely places that mesmerizes me. In any case, I learned the mineral's name and bought the sphere, which was astoundingly inexpensive, all things considered.

But, even a few years later, I could find very little about it online. Today, on the other hand, there's hundreds of links and images extolling its virtues; though often the memes being shared are repeated and distorted along the way. The information you might find is sometimes technical, but, far more often, overwhelmingly esoteric, and not always accurate.

I had scanned my labradorite pendant in the past, but never from different angles... and the one anomaly I missed, and one point of this post, was just how inaccurate a scanner can be. It doesn't, after all, faithfully record a 3D object. It interprets the object, and, when confronted with transparent or translucent objects, the scanner compensates for its disability by creating a new object altogether! (By the way, when scanning the labradorite, the scanner cover was left open, and nothing was placed on top of the pendant.)

If you looked at the above image, for instance - which is actually 4 separate scans combined - you might imagine the labradorite cabochon is solid and opaque in places. While the scan is, in a sense, describing how labradorescence actually works - possibly similar to recent scientific efforts to produce an invisibility cloak (?) - the image is hopelessly wrong. Looking at it, we might safely assume the schiller effect is floating across the surface of a chunk of brownish substrate. Looking at the images below, however - courtesy of my monitor's camera - the reality is something else again. In these three shots I am shining a small flashlight through the pendant. Though one can see the inclusions that may have created the overall pattern, the "substrate" does not exist. There is nothing remotely opaque in the cabochon. It is, for the most part, transparent.

Or is it? Wiki's description of labradorescence is muddied with technical terms. ("Extra-terrestrial" in the third quote is actually preferable... and, it might not be be all fantasy; apparently labradorite is found in meteors...) A simpler explanation is given by Merriam-Webster:  "A play of colors or colored reflections exhibited esp. by labradorite and caused by internal structures that selectively reflect only certain colors." (Other descriptions, in laymen's terms, may be found here or here.) But, I'm not sure any definition of labradorescence really describes the situation with the scan. Perhaps there's something about labradorescence that is, as of yet, unknown. After all, the rough gem is often found attached to just such a substrate as we see in the scan. Is the scanner actually showing us a residual image of the gem's past recorded in the labradorite's many layers, or is it a holographic-like mirage created by the scanner's deficiencies?

If you've ever witnessed labradorite in the flesh, you can attest to its innate mystery. And, if you, like a number of other people - including myself - are utterly transfixed by the sight of it, you, too, might attribute your fascination to some "unknown" factor.

As for my labradorite window, well, it's got a long way to go. Meanwhile, feast your eyes on some gorgeous specimens of the stone (which can be found as shown below: in the rough, as spheres, and as jewelry. But, also in sculpture: see here and here)... and have a happy new year!

Note on the above images (click to enlarge): The link to the first, on your left, can no longer be found. The sphere in the center, however, is sold here... and the beautiful pendant on your right can be found (as of this writing) in this Etsy shop. Incidentally, the morpho-butterfly-wing-under-glass effect found in this pendant is similar to my own.

A later added note: For all you alien lovers out there, there's actually several connections between this post and my last, "The Doors of Perception"... Funny how one can forget their own personal mythology consciously, but, on an unconscious level, the same roads are travelled again and again!


  1. Labradorite seems the perfect material for you to work with due to the odd trans-D characteristics of the material.

    Intriguing - went off to GOOGLE more on the topic and found it fascinating.

    1. Unintentionally, this post became a kind of follow-up to the Doors of Perception post, in that labradorescence does illustrate an example of: "True perception is thereby incremental... like tuning in a station on a radio; our window for experiencing certain phenomena is, apparently, extremely small." In this case, referring to the direction of the light source.

      I still wonder what it is about the light in the scanning process which would produce an actual mirage.

      But, yeah, labradorite is the made-to-order transdimensionlist's stone! :-)

    2. P.S. Speaking of the ties between this post and the last, I just remembered a bit of my own personal mythology... and was moved to update the post! The mind works in mysterious ways...