This Optical Illusion Brings Van Gogh’s Starry Night to Life

Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night is arguably the most famous and widely appreciated painting ever. But have you ever seen it move? Now you can, thanks to this wild, but simple, optical illusion. Just start the video below, watch the spiral for 30 seconds, and then shift your gaze to the painting below. Because your eyes are trained on the moving black and white spiral, they will compensate when you look at a still image. That makes it appear to move in the opposite direction. With this small trick, Van Gogh’s masterful swirling sky rotates like magic.

You may know this optical illusion as the waterfall effect. If you watch a waterfall for some time and then shift your gaze, things will look like they are moving upwards. This also happens if you watch the road go by (or the ocean, if you’re on a boat). If you stare long enough and then look somewhere else, everything will move in the opposite direction for a few seconds.

Instead of staring at the small version of Starry Night in the video, you can try looking at the LEGO Ideas set of the famous painting, if you’re lucky enough to have one of those. Other ways to see living Van Gogh masterpieces include the immersive exhibits of his artwork touring the world. And there’s even a drone show that pays tribute. It’s also never a bad time to go back and watch the episode of Doctor Who centered around the Eleventh Doctor and Amy’s trip back in time to meet her favorite artist, who never knew how beloved and important his works would become.

A black and white spiral background with Vincent Van Gogh's The Starry Night centered
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Not everyone can see all optical illusions but scientists are still figuring out why that is. In the meantime, pet owners are doing their own trials with everything ranging from cats to otters.

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.

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