Why Are Some Sunsets More Colorful than Others?

It’s a seemingly normal day; there is nothing particularly bad and nothing exceptionally good about it. You are returning from work or classes, and the traffic is congested just as it always is at this hour. As you turn the corner onto your street, the sky is suddenly so bright, you can’t help but wonder how you hadn’t noticed it before. We all have moments like this. How is it that some sunsets appear more vivid than others?

Science Daily details science behind these striking sunsets and the phenomenon of scattering. Tiny molecules change the direction of light rays in the atmosphere, causing them to scatter. When the sun is low on the horizon at sunset, sunlight passes through more air. Blue and violet are short-wavelengths and are scattered much more than other colors on the spectrum. That is why we see a blue sky during the day when the sun is high. When there is more atmosphere, that means there are more molecules to scatter the violet and blue light away from your eyes. Because red has the longest wavelength of any visible light, the sun is red when it’s on the horizon. This also explains why sunsets tend to exhibit colors of yellow, red, and orange. The details of the sunset are determined by the wavelength of the light and the size of the particle.

According to National Geographic, you may see more vibrant sunsets based on the seasons. In the east, the fall and winter create marvelous sunsets because the air tends to be dryer and cleaner for the path of sunlight. Pollution also tends to mute and muddy the colors of sunsets because large particles in the lower atmosphere tend to have that effect. In places where there is a lot of haze, it is less common to observe dramatic colors. All the more reason to reduce our impact on the environment — to keep our brilliant sunsets!

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