The colour an observer sees depends on:
- The range of wavelengths and intensity of each component of visible light emitted by a light source.
- The path that the light takes.
- The different media, materials or objects it encounters.
- Optical phenomena such as absorption, dispersion, diffraction, polarization, reflection, refraction, scattering and transmission.
Light is electromagnetic radiation (radiant energy), which, detached from its source, is transported by electromagnetic waves (or their quanta, photons) and propagates through space. Even if humans had never evolved, electromagnetic radiation would have been emitted by stars since the formation of the first galaxies over 13 billion years ago.
The experience of colour is a feature of human vision that depends first of all on the construction of our eyes and the wavelength, frequency and amplitude of visible light that strikes the retina at the back of each eye.
Because colour is a visual experience that is specific to each and every one of us at any given moment, we can try and share our experiences of colour using language but colour cannot be defined without examples.
When white light strikes a neutral coloured object, and all wavelengths are reflected, then it appears white to an observer.
The term white light doesn’t mean light is white as it travels through the air.
As light travels through the air it is invisible to our eyes.
The human eye, and so human perception, is tuned to the visible spectrum and so to spectral colours between red and violet. It is the sensitivity of the eye to this small part of the electromagnetic spectrum that results in the perception of colour.
The colour an observer sees depends on the wavelengths of visible light emitted by a light source and on which of those wavelengths are reflected off an object.