Wouldn’t it be cool to see things through any wall and any door? How about seeing through your own skin? Or your dog?
No, no, no, and no. Of all superhero powers out there, this isn’t the one you want to get your hands on.
X-rays are light. But they have different wavelengths than visible light, and that makes them interact with matter differently. Basically, they can make some materials partially transparent – like human tissue.
Seeing X-rays wouldn’t be anything like what they show in superhero movies, not even close. Besides, it would require you to have another superpower in your possession. Here’s why.
There are very few things on Earth that naturally emit enough X-rays to make themselves visible. That means that you’d have to shoot X-rays from your eyes onto the object you want to see through.
But if you were just running around blasting them in all directions, you wouldn’t see any difference. When you pay a visit to your local hospital emergency room to see if you’ve got anything cracked, they place you between a source of X-rays – an X-ray machine – and something that can detect the emitted X-rays. See where I’m going here?
You can’t be a source of X-rays and X-ray detector at the same time. Unless you moved very fast and got behind whatever it is you looked at just before the X-rays hit it.
Although they’re not the kind of light you can see, that doesn’t eliminate the fact that X-rays travel at the speed of light. That means, in order to make use of your X-ray-blasting eyes, you’d have to move faster than light.
But here’s a bummer – from what physics has taught us, that’s not possible. Nothing can outrun the speed of light.
Let’s not give up just yet. A quick solution to this problem would be to cooperate with a friend who has been granted the same X-ray-shooting abilities.
Your friend would blast X-rays your way, and you would detect them, and the other way around. While you were casually shooting X-rays, anyone not wearing a lead outfit in the nearby vicinity would be exposed to ionizing radiation.
That kind of radiation can damage human DNA, causing DNA mutations and leading to cancer in later years. As a direct source of radiation, you’d be the first to be affected.
Maybe you should opt for the ability to detect X-rays, and not emit them. But again, there aren’t too many natural sources of X-rays on Earth. If they were the only thing you were able to detect, you’d be in almost complete darkness.
You could look up the sky to see a faint glow of space radiation mostly blocked out by the Earth’s atmosphere. You’d get the same visual if you took to the open seas since the oceans are a little radioactive.
The only things you’d really be able to see through would all be man-made. You could start hanging out at a hospital’s X-ray department. When that gets boring, you could move on to particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland. But that’s about all the fun you’d have.
Neither our bodies, nor the environment we live in are suited to this superpower. Your eyes can process about 10 million colors within a visible spectrum – anything between ultraviolet light and red light.
With over two million working parts, our eyes are the second-most complex organ, behind only our brain. They generally outperform X-ray vision.
Leave that one to Superman and stick with red capes and make-believe for now, at least until cancer is no longer a problem for humanity.
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