Question

Why does the red color appear at the horizon during sunset?

Asked by: Huma Naqvi

Answer

The red colour in the sky at sunset (and sunrise) is due to an effect called Rayleigh scattering. There is a similar form of scattering called Mie scattering which is responsible for the white colour of clouds.

Particles in our atmosphere that are approximately the same size as the wavelength of visible light cause the white light from the sun to scatter and split into individual components. Oxygen and Nitrogen (the main components of our atmosphere) scatter violet and blue light due to their small size. This is why the sky appears to be blue in the day time, especially at midday when the Sun is closest to us.

During sunrise and sunset the distance that the light has to travel from the Sun to an observer is at its greatest. This means the a large amount of blue and violet light has been scattered so the light that is recieved by an observer is mostly of a longer wavelength and therefore appears to be read.

For more information try looking at http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/guides/mtr/opt/mch/sct.rxml

Answered by: Edward Rayne, Physics Undergraduate Student, Cambridge UK

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