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Cardioid? Caustic curve?

A GIF going viral on Reddit lately (both in full speed and slow motion) shows a spiraling display at the base of a wine glass from a sunlight refraction – a “caustic curve”. The slow motion footage shows something similar to a monotone, wire-frame Mac OS “flurry“.

This is a particularly magnificent display of caustic curves, and the tendency for round cups to want to refract light into cardioids (imperfect ones, but close). Drinking glasses refract light into a similar shape called a nephroid.

Original GIF

[via u/diplofocus_ on Reddit]

In slow-motion:

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More examples of (purposeful) caustic displays:

[via Wikipedia]

In optics, a caustic or caustic network is the envelope of light rays reflected or refracted by a curved surface or object, or the projection of that envelope of rays on another surface. The caustic is a curve or surface to which each of the light rays is tangent, defining a boundary of an envelope of rays as a curve of concentrated light…”

via Wikipedia
A more typical caustic from a drinking glass. [via Wikipedia]

Concentration of light, especially sunlight, can burn. The word caustic, in fact, comes from the Greek καυστός, burnt, via the Latin causticus, burning. A common situation where caustics are visible is when light shines on a drinking glass. The glass casts a shadow, but also produces a curved region of bright light. In ideal circumstances (including perfectly parallel rays, as if from a point source at infinity), a nephroid-shaped patch of light can be produced. Rippling caustics are commonly formed when light shines through waves on a body of water.

Another familiar caustic is the rainbow. Scattering of light by raindrops causes different wavelengths of light to be refracted into arcs of differing radius, producing the bow.

via Wikipedia

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