How Do Fireflies Glow? Mystery Solved After 60 Years
Scientists have sussed out the chemical secret of these bright summertime beetles—and it may someday improve human health, a new study says.
Think of the firefly abdomen like a black box of bioluminescence.
For around 60 years, scientists have known what basic ingredients go into the box—things like oxygen, calcium, magnesium, and a naturally occurring chemical called luciferin.
And they've known what comes out of the box—photons, or light, in the form of the yellow, green, orange, and even blue flickers you see dancing across your backyard on summer nights.
But until recently, the actual chemical reactions that produce the firefly's light have been shrouded in mystery. And scientists like Bruce Branchini at Connecticut College love a good mystery. (Also see "Fireflies Are 'Cannibals'—And More Surprising Facts About the Summertime Insect.")
"The way enzymes and proteins can convert chemical energy into light