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Polarized Perspectives (A Childs Point of View)

Updated on January 12, 2020

Children can learn some fairly amazing things when they stare at the sky at dusk while wearing polarized sunglasses.

Medieval SunGlasses. by ~YoBorg on deviantART
Medieval SunGlasses. by ~YoBorg on deviantART | Source

Our family lived in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois when I was a child. Like most families, we would travel to visit our grandparents occasionally, or our grandparents would come to visit us.

One memorable day, my grandfather came to visit and brought a pair of new polarized sunglasses with him. Grandpa was a photographer, so he had a good time explaining to us how these glasses worked. I was five or six years old, still childishly curious, and asking the simple questions a five year old asks that confound those who have already forgotten their own simple misunderstandings. Grandpa eventually gave up trying to explain, gave me the glasses, and said ‘Put them on, go outside, and look around’.

Sometimes During The Day

It is not day and it is not a star.  It follows an orbit around the sun in a twisting path that it is interwined with the path of the earth, so that makes it a satellite of earth.  We call it the Moon.
It is not day and it is not a star. It follows an orbit around the sun in a twisting path that it is interwined with the path of the earth, so that makes it a satellite of earth. We call it the Moon. | Source

"Go see what you can see"

So I did, promptly laying down on the ground on my back, shifting around to get comfortable, pretending I was really cool, tanning on a beach somewhere, and staring up at the sky through Grandpa’s polarized sunglasses. It was not long before I noticed a single bright star nearly straight overhead. Surprised, I took the glasses off and looked again. There was not a star in the sky. I put the glasses back on, and there it was again, a faint lone star straight overhead.

I jumped up, went back into the house, and proceeded to tell my grandfather of what I had seen. When everyone stopped laughing, I persisted, and said I had indeed seen a star. So Mom and Grandpa went outside, Mom lay down on the ground, with me laying head to head next to her and at an angle so we could easily exchange the glasses. We then took turns looking up at the sky through the polarized sunglasses. Mom saw the star, and I did not. Grandpa laughed, (I now know he understood what was happening), and told us to switch places. So we scooted around on the ground, each putting on the glasses in turn. This time I saw the star, and Mom did not.

Grandpa laughed again, and said, now try this: Instead of wearing the glasses, close one eye and hold them in front of you towards that star you see, look through only one of the lenses, and slowly turn the glasses. This time we moved the sunglasses instead of scooting around. We found we could both see the star, if we held those polarized sunglasses in just the right way.


When I think back now on that day, I realize it had a profound effect on me. First, I ended up wanting to understand all the physics that went with how light comes from the sun, how it interacts with the atmosphere, how starlight or reflections from a satellite interact with the atmosphere, and how the variety of polarizing interactions affect what you can see.

Second, and what I now think was the far more important lesson, what you see as reality is often times affected by how you look at it. If you shift your perspective just the tiniest little bit, or adjust that polarizing filter, you might be able to see what the other person is talking about, or at least, see it from their point-of-view.

Never look at the Sun

If you decide to try this, be sure to get glasses with polarization filters rather than glasses that are simply tinted. The effects are different. Also, the later you try in the afternoon, the better.

And ... Never look at the sun.


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