Scintillating Starburst: Seeing rays that aren’t there…

This is one of my oldest illusions I created in the 90s. In the picture you may see ghostlike dark radial beams. This illusion is a variant of the Herman’s scintillating grid illusion. I designed this illusion just by turning 45 degrees the Herman grid and then by applying a polar transformation.

From my book “Eye Tricks“, 2001-2007.

The Hermann grid illusion is an optical illusion reported by Ludimar Hermann in 1870. The illusion is characterized by ghostlike gray blobs perceived at the intersections of a white grid on a black background. But I discovered that when you turn the grid 45 degrees an additional visual illusion appears: you may see a swarming of orthogonal darker lines.

herman grid

The animated version of the illusion is more striking. With the power of your mind, you can make the geometrical pattern rotate clockwise or counter-clockwise (but when the pattern rotates clockwise, you will see the illusive radial beams rotate counter-clockwise, and vice-versa).

Animated scintillating starbust

This animated version from Youtube features a rotating white pattern on a black background followed by a rotating black pattern on a white background. The scintillating effect is more apparent on the second variant.

I have experimented with many pattern variants that produce illusive radial beams, as showcased below…

Scintillating starburst variant
Scintillating rays
Scintillating Starburst variant

Ghost Color Variant
The shimmering blue and yellow rays of the rose-window-like patterns shown below are a construct of your mind (enlarge to see the effect). These Op Art works are available as prints and canvases from my official online gallery.

Ghost color variant of starburst
scintillating starburst

How does this op art illusion work?

But why do we see those illusory vibrating / scintillating rays in this kind of patterns? Probably because of their hidden structure. If we heavily remove the noise from the geometric patterns in fig. A with a photo editing filter, we obtain smoother patterns that show ‘subliminal’ radial beams (fig. B). If we continue the operation, we obtain even more smoother patterns with apparent blank rays (fig. C). This is how the pattern is encoded through the multiple layers of our brain. Which makes me think the illusion is partly due to modal completion phenomenon.

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Related scintillating illusion: