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Fourth echelon

Watch: iridescent sea sapphires can turn invisible instantly

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Colour-shifting sea sapphires are some of the world's most mesmerising and most elusive creatures.

These miniature crustaceans are capable of shimmering their way through the whole colour spectrum before disappearing altogether. Just like with peacocks, it is only the males of the species that are capable of these iridescent displays. And now, for the first time, researchers have figured out exactly how they do it.

Each sapphire's skin is packed with alternating layers of hexagonal crystals that are arranged like honeycomb, and these layers are filled with cytoplasm. Researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science measured the reflections that came off both the cytoplasm and the crystals themselves before realising that the changes in the depth of cytoplasm corresponded with the changes in hue. Whereas the stacks of crystal were consistently 70 nanometers thick, the depth of cytoplasm varied wildly measuring between 50 and 200 nanometers.



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