Astronomers use laptop computers to control the movement of computerised telescopes, display sky charts, manage astronomical databases and communicate with colleagues during night observation runs. However, the bright white screen of a computer will destroy adaptive night vision---the ability to see in lowlight conditions. As the human eye adjusts to darkness it produces the protein rhodopsin which is responsible for enabling vision in lowlight conditions. White light destroys rhodopsin and with it, night vision. Red light has little effect on rhodopsin so a computer screen displayed in red is preferred by astronomers during night work.
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Turn the laptop computer on and allow it to start-up normally. Different operating systems such as Windows, Mac OS or Linux provide different user menus but all have the same basic features, including a feature to adjust screen colour. When the computer has finished starting normally, a user menu will be presented.
From the start-up or user menu, usually found in the lower-left corner select "Control Panel." Depending on the age of the operating system and type, the title may be slightly different but you will have several choices and one choice will allow you to select the menu that controls the screen appearance. You want to change the screen appearance and that capability comes under the computer's control menu, page or display.
When you have found the screen appearance menu, select personalise. All operating systems come with a default screen appearance, a small number of custom configurations and the ability to personalise the settings. The personalise option allows you to change the screen colour, font colour and type as well as other features. You will be able to name the personalised setting after you finish.
Within the personalised settings option, change all light coloured displays such as window borders, window boxes, active and inactive windows, and buttons, to red. There will be many shades of red from which to select so make subtle distinctions using different shades of red for each display. Leave the font colour black. When necessary, adjust the shade of red so that a black font is readable.
Save the personalised settings with a name such as "Night Vision" or "Astronomy" when finished. You may now switch back to the normal display. When needed, at night when you are allowing your eyes to adapt to the dark, open the control panel on the computer screen and select the "Night Vision" or "Astronomy" display option. As your eyes adapt to the dark---this usually takes 10 to 20 minutes--- the red screen will slowly become easier to read. After your eyes adapt to the lowlight, you may wish to reduce the brightness of the computer screen by using the brightness control found on all computer keyboards. This control is usually a sliding bar or up/down keys. Brightness can also be changed within the control panel.
Tips and warnings
- If possible, change the display colour in a dark environment and allow your eyes to adapt to the dark. A red screen is difficult to read in bright light but becomes vibrant after your eyes have adapted to the dark.
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