Human Bodies Emit Visible Light

Very sensitive cameras capture light emitted from the body. Kyoto University, Tohoku Institute of Technology /

Very sensitive cameras capture light emitted from the body. Kyoto University, Tohoku Institute of Technology /

That’s right.  Our bodies actually emit a minuscule amount of real light.  This is not just radiation or infrared body heat, but actual photons are released from the surface of the skin:

Past research has shown that the body emits visible light, 1,000 times less intense than the levels to which our naked eyes are sensitive. In fact, virtually all living creatures emit very weak light, which is thought to be a byproduct of biochemical reactions involving free radicals.1

New research indicates that the amount of light varies throughout the day: 

The researchers found the body glow rose and fell over the day, with its lowest point at 10 a.m. and its peak at 4 p.m., dropping gradually after that. These findings suggest there is light emission linked to our body clocks, most likely due to how our metabolic rhythms fluctuate over the course of the day.2

The face glows more than the rest of the body, but research is showing that this light may be indicative of the condition of the whole body:

“If you can see the glimmer from the body’s surface, you could see the whole body condition,” said researcher Masaki Kobayashi, a biomedical photonics specialist at the Tohoku Institute of Technology in Sendai, Japan.3

And it is not just humans that exhibit this quality, but all living things emit low levels of actual light.

This research brings new meaning to many scriptures which deal with light, particularly section 88 of the Doctrine & Covenants:

11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;
12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—
13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things. (D&C 88:11–13)

49 The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not; nevertheless, the day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, being quickened in him and by him.
50 Then shall ye know that ye have seen me, that I am, and that I am the true light that is in you, and that you are in me; otherwise ye could not abound. (D&C 88:49–50)

58 And thus they all received the light of the countenance of their lord, every man in his hour, and in his time, and in his season— (D&C 88:58)

67 And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. (D&C 88:67)

It would be very interesting to see further research that tests if the light that is emitted varies not only by metabolic rhythms, but according to the character and lifestyle of each person.  Furthermore, is it possible that we can detect this light from each other, even if not with our eyes?  Hugh Nibley once wrote of the discernment abilities of Brigham Young:

A big black leather chair stood in Brigham Young’s office by the Lion House; it faced the window on the opposite wall and the President’s desk in the middle of the room. First-time visitors to the office were invited to sit on that chair, facing the strong light of day and the calm blue eyes of Brother Brigham, who sat there at his desk, his back to the window, quietly waiting for his guest to say something. After all, the man had come to see him, and it was only right to let him state his business. President Young, according to Grandfather [Charles W. Nibley], would never say a word for the first three minutes. And at the end of those first three minutes he always knew exactly the sort of man he was dealing with, and the nature—greedy, benign, or sinister—of his business. “And he never (here Grandpa smote the arm of his chair) had to change his mind!”—his psychoanalytical techniques, black leather couch and all, were deadly accurate. Brigham Young used to say that no man, if allowed to speak, could possibly avoid revealing his true character.4

  1. “Humans Glow in Visible Light,” Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience. []
  2. ibid. []
  3. ibid. []
  4. Hugh W. Nibley, “Educating the Saints—a Brigham Young Mosaic,” BYU Studies 11/1 (1970): 61. []


  1. Posted July 24, 2009 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    The article mentions the researchers believe the concentration of light coming from the face has to do with sun exposure. I definitely think there is more to it than that, especially in light of the scriptures you have cited. I agree with you that it would be interesting to compare the light output from people who are depressed, happy, just committed a crime, etc and compare the results. It would also be interesting to compare the light output from someone who had just been baptized, received their endowments, or just been sealed!

  2. Posted July 24, 2009 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    This is really cool, Bryce. How about testing for that “glow” of a pregnant woman?

    [nitpick: photons are the quanta of light of any frequency, including infrared.]

  3. Posted July 24, 2009 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Interesting, the article cited says, “This visible light differs from the infrared radiation — an invisible form of light — that comes from body heat.” I guess they might be distinguishing between those frequencies that are “visible” vs. those that are “invisible,” but I’m unsure how they are defining those terms.

  4. Posted July 24, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I think I see what happened here. Light is light. I thought this was saying that some tiny fraction of the blackbody radiation of the human body is in the visible range (see on this graph where the blue curve intersects the rainbow representing the range of wavelengths we can see).

    But this particular light seems to have a completely different source. That is pretty nifty!

  5. Posted July 24, 2009 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    I love that story about Brigham Young.

    Have you read the book The Dancing Wu Li Masters? It contains some fascinating insights into the properties of light.

  6. Posted July 25, 2009 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    This is really cool, Bryce! I just wanted to share a couple of quotes relevant to this.
    In some ancient writings attributed to “Macarius”, it says, regarding Ezekiel’s experience:

    For the prophet was contemplating a mystery of the soul that was to receive its own Lord and become a throne of glory to him. For a soul that is counted worthy to participate in the Spirit of his light and is illuminated by the beauty of his ineffable glory, seeing that he has prepared it for himself as a throne and dwelling, becomes wholly light…That is to say, no part of it is in darkness, but has been turned entirely and completely into light and spirit…seeing that the ineffable beauty of the glory of the light of the face of Christ has mounted it and sat upon it…Thus the soul is illuminated perfectly by the ineffable beauty of the glory of the face of Christ and has participated perfectly in the Holy Spirit, and has been counted worthy to become a throne and dwelling of God.

    Gregory Palamas said:

    So, when the saints contemplate this divine light within themselves, seeing it by the divinizing communion of the Spirit, through the mysterious visitation of perfecting illuminations-then they behold the garment of their deification, their mind being glorified and filled by the grace of the Word, beautiful beyond measure in his splendour; just as the divinity of the Word on the mountain glorified with divine light the body conjoined to it.

    Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, in her diary, recorded the following about the Prophet Joseph Smith:

    After prayer and singing, Joseph began talking. He began very solemnly and very earnestly. Suddenly, his countenance changed and he stood mute; he seemed almost transfixed. He was looking ahead and his face outshone the candle which was on a shelf just behind him. I thought I could almost see the cheek bones. He looked as though a searchlight was inside his face. I never saw anything like it on earth. I could not take my eyes away from him. I shall remember him as he looked then as long as I live.

    May we all live in such a way that we can have this light grow strong within us! Thanks, Bryce, for your post on this most incredible topic!

  7. Posted July 25, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Hi Greg. I have read The Dancing Wu Li Masters. It is the best, if only, book I’ve read on quantum mechanics. Some of the characteristics and behavior of light truly boggle the mind. We know so little. Fascinating book!

  8. Posted July 25, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    David, those are some great quotes! I love the one about the Prophet Joseph. I believe there are several accounts like this that speak of the countenance of the prophet lighting up and shining. Reminds me of Moses coming down from the mount (Ex. 34:29–30, 35).

  9. Posted July 25, 2009 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    For reference, here is an excerpt from Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner Testimony to a group of young men at Brigham Young University in 1905.

    Wilford Woodruff bore a similar testimony in Wilford Woodruff’s Testimony Video.

  10. Mark Greene
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    From most of the galaxy pictures taken by the Hubble Telescope, I was struck by the fact that at the center of these galaxies is a brilliant light. The word light is found in every verse of Genesis 1 as though light is the center of creation. Is light the center of each of us? A strong hint is in the scriptural definition of an intelligence or “the light of truth”. In changing the state of energy of any physical object, light is ultimately emitted. Is light the center of the earth?

  11. Posted July 27, 2009 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Following up on Mark’s comments, I have been wondering about this subject quite a lot recently. I always thought that there was a “bright center” to each galaxy and I have seen that used as evidence for a possible “celestial kingdom”, around which the galaxy revolves. I am no astronomer, so I assumed that this was a plausible conclusion. However, someone recently told me that there is no bright center, but that at the center of every galaxy lies a huge black hole. Interestingly, there are scriptures that say that God dwells in “thick darkness” (1 Kings 8:12; 2 Chron. 6:1; Ps. 18:11; Ps. 97:2). However, we also read (e.g. 1 Tim. 6:16) that He dwells in glorious light. I believe that God dwells in light, but why the references to darkness? I can’t speculate much about galaxies, black holes, and stars–that’s a bit beyond my pay grade–but it is a very interesting topic.

  12. Bruce Gilbert
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    “Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” (D. & C. 93:29.) And the prophet taught the same truth when he said that “the mind or the intelligence which man possesses is coequal [coeternal] with God himself. . . . The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end.” (Teachings, p. 353) Thus, intelligence, or the light of truth, that is the spirit element which Abraham says was organized to form intelligences or spirit children, was not created or made. (Abra. 3:23.) It has existed forever, and will exist to all eternity, for it is gnolaum, or eternal.
    (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 315.)

    1. In the gospel sense, intelligence is far more than the capacity to know and understand, and the intelligent man is one who does more than acquire knowledge. “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth,” the Lord says. “Light and truth forsake that evil one.” (D. & C. 93:36-37.) Thus intelligence is the light and truth which comes from Christ who is the way, the life, the light, and the truth of the world.
    Knowledge can be obtained and used in unrighteousness; Satan gains his power on this principle. But intelligence presupposes the wise and proper use of knowledge, a use that leads to righteousness and the ultimate attainment of exaltation. The devil has tremendous power and influence because of his knowledge, but he is entirely devoid of the least glimmering of intelligence. An intelligent person is one who applies his knowledge so as to progress in the things of the Spirit; he glories in righteousness. (Way to Perfection, pp. 225-231.) “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come. (D. & C. 130:18-19.)
    2. Intelligence or light and truth, is also used as a synonym for spirit element. Scriptures using both terms speak of the self-existent nature of the substance involved. (D. & C. 93:29; 131:7-8.) Abraham calls the pre-existent spirits the intelligences that were organized before the world was” (Abra. 3:22) because the intelligences were organized intelligence or in other words the spirit bodies were born from spirit element.
    (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 386.)

    Since light is the “spirit element” from which our spirit bodies were created, it would seem that very much like our earthly bodies were created from the “dust of the earth” (ingestion of earthly elements,) our spirit bodies were created from the “light of eternity.”

  13. observer
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    This brings to mind an experience I had while serving a mission in Japan. On one door we knocked on, a lady answered and as we started to say who we were, she interrupted us and said something to the effect “I know who you are, you’re Mormons. You’re the ones that have these bright shiny faces with light coming out of them.”

    We were flabbergasted, and asked her if she wanted to know more, but she promptly turned us down. Interesting experience nonetheless!

  14. Bruce Gilbert
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    James 1:17 and 1 Thes. 5:5

  15. Bruce Gilbert
    Posted August 10, 2009 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

  16. Andrew Lacayo
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Regarding Bruce Gilbert’s comments on intelligence, spirit element and intelligence are two different things. We know that we existed as intelligences prior to receiving our spirit bodies from Heavenly Father. Abraham uses intelligences and spirits as different entities. Also in the January 2005 Ensign it states that we we given spirit bodies that “housed intelligence”, just like our physical bodies house our spirit bodies. So to use D&C 131:7–8 and D&C 93:29 doesn’t fit.

  17. Andrew Lacayo
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I also love this article because it makes sense with what 3 Nephi 13:22–23 teach, ” 22 The alight of the body is the beye; if, therefore, thine eye be csingle, thy whole body shall be full of light.

    23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!”

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