ocean jasper diptych

Photos courtesy of Bernardo Cesare

As a professor of petrology at the University of Padova, Italy, Bernardo Cesare knows a thing or two about the origins, structures and composition of rocks. His main areas of focus are metamorphism and mineralogy, and to better demonstrate the intricacies of these fascinating subjects, he's turned to another one of his passions — photography.

Ocean jasper

Not only are Cesare's photomicrographs and macrophotographs functional and educational, they are also positively beautiful.

One of the most otherworldly subjects he's documented is ocean jasper, which is found exclusively on the northwest coast of Madagascar.

Jasper is a microcrystalline variety of quartz that is found all across the world and often contains impurities of iron oxide or organic substances. These impurities are responsible for interesting colors and the presence of banding in some specimens. Ocean jasper (seen on the right closer to real-life scale) stands out from typical jasper thanks to its exquisite orb-like "spherulites," which are created from volcanic tuff and rhyolite flows that have gone through alteration and silicification processes.

Although you can view the vibrant colors, patterns and banding in jasper with the naked eye, the brilliant aesthetics you see in Cesare's ocean jasper micrographs are caused by something else entirely.

ocean jasper flowers

Cesare explains that the psychedelic-like colors in his micrographs are called "interference colors." Regardless of the presence of impurities, these interference colors are visible in pure, crystal-clear minerals when exposed to polarized light.

To produce his remarkable images, Cesare uses geological "thin sections," which are slices of minerals or rocks thinned down to a thickness of around 0.03 millimeters. After making these thin sections, they are moved to a glass slide and placed underneath the lens of a camera-connected microscope capable of transmitting polarized light. The resulting images don't require much post-processing — what you see in these micrographs is almost exactly what you would see through the oculars of a microscope!

Continue below to see more microscopic examples of these geological beauties, and visit micROCKScopica to learn more about Cesare's work.

creamy ocean jasper

purpley rainbow ocean jasper

blue and yellow ocean jasper

pastel ocean jasper

orange-hued ocean jasper

geometrical ocean jasper

rainbow bursting ocean jasper

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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.

Ocean jasper: You've never seen a rock quite like this before
Found only in Madagascar, ocean jasper is characterized by psychedelic orb-like impurities.