AskDefine | Define kaleidoscope

Dictionary Definition

kaleidoscope n : an optical toy in a tube; it produces symmetrical patterns as bits of colored glass are reflected by mirrors

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A tube of mirrors containing loose coloured beads etc and is rotated to produce a succession of symmetrical designs
  2. A constantly changing set of colours, or other things


Extensive Definition

A kaleidoscope is a tube of mirrors containing loose colored beads, pebbles or other small colored objects. The viewer looks in one end and light enters the other end, reflecting off the mirrors. Typically there are two rectangular lengthwise mirrors. Setting of the mirrors at 45° creates eight duplicate images of the objects, six at 60°, and four at 90°. As the tube is rotated, the tumbling of the colored objects presents the viewer with varying colors and patterns. Any arbitrary pattern of objects shows up as a beautiful symmetric pattern because of the reflections in the mirrors. A two-mirror model yields a pattern or patterns isolated against a solid black background, while a three-mirror (closed triangle) model yields a pattern that fills the entire field.
For a 2D symmetry group a kaleidoscopic point is a point of intersection of two or more lines of reflection symmetry. In the case of a discrete group the angle between consecutive lines is 180°/n for an integer n≥2. At this point there are n lines of reflection symmetry, and the point is a center of n-fold rotational symmetry. See also symmetry combinations. Modern kaleidoscopes are made of brass tubes, stained glass, wood, steel, gourds and most any other material an artist can sculpt or manipulate. The part of the kaleidoscope which holds objects to be viewed is called an object chamber or cell. Object cells may contain almost any material. Sometimes the object cell is filled with liquid so the items float and move through the object cell with slight movement from the person viewing.


Known to the ancient Greeks, it was reinvented by the Scot Sir David Brewster in 1816 while conducting experiments on light polarization; Brewster patented it in 1817. His initial design was a tube with pairs of mirrors at one end, and pairs of translucent disks at the other, and beads between the two. Initially intended as a science tool, the kaleidoscope was quickly copied as a toy. Brewster believed he would make money from his popular invention; however, a fault in the wording of his patent allowed others to copy his invention.
In America, Charles Bush popularized the kaleidoscope. Today, these early products often sell for over $1,000. Cozy Baker collected kaleidoscopes and wrote books about the artists who were making them in the 1970s through 2000. Baker is credited with energizing a renaissance in kaleidoscope-making in America.
Craft galleries often carry a few, while others specialize in them and carry dozens of different types from different artists and craftspeople.
Kaleidoscopes are related to hyperbolic geometry.


For some background on the geometry of the kaleidoscope, see Reflection group.
kaleidoscope in Bengali: ক্যালেইডোস্কোপ
kaleidoscope in Catalan: Calidoscopi
kaleidoscope in Czech: Kaleidoskop
kaleidoscope in Danish: Kalejdoskop
kaleidoscope in German: Kaleidoskop
kaleidoscope in Modern Greek (1453-): Καλειδοσκόπιο
kaleidoscope in Spanish: Caleidoscopio
kaleidoscope in Esperanto: Kalejdoskopo
kaleidoscope in French: Kaléidoscope
kaleidoscope in Italian: Caleidoscopio
kaleidoscope in Hebrew: קליידוסקופ
kaleidoscope in Latin: Caleidoscopium
kaleidoscope in Lithuanian: Kaleidoskopas
kaleidoscope in Macedonian: Калеидоскоп
kaleidoscope in Japanese: 万華鏡
kaleidoscope in Norwegian: Kaleidoskop
kaleidoscope in Polish: Kalejdoskop
kaleidoscope in Portuguese: Caleidoscópio
kaleidoscope in Russian: Калейдоскоп
kaleidoscope in Finnish: Kaleidoskooppi
kaleidoscope in Swedish: Kalejdoskop
kaleidoscope in Vietnamese: Kính vạn hoa
kaleidoscope in Turkish: Çiçek dürbünü
kaleidoscope in Chinese: 萬花筒
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