The year was 1995. If you weren’t too busy trying to avoid dying from dysentery on the new Oregon Trail II or jamming to Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” you probably saw the newest Disney hit Pocahontas.
After vowing to recreate this scene in your backyard, you may have noticed that beautiful blue-pink sunset and thought “Why the heck does that even happen?”
While there are many popular explanations as to why the sky changes colors, there are a variety of different factors that come into play. In particular, pollution, dust, and clouds take part in making your #instasunset pic likeworthy.
First, to answer the age old question, “Why is the sky blue?” we need to give a call to our old pal, Roy G. Biv. As you might know, light comes in waves. If visible light (the light we see) got in an orderly line, the longest, big red, would be first-the-worst and the line would continue down the rainbow all the way to wittle baby viowet.
Air particles are around a thousand times smaller than visible light, but because violet waves are the smallest, air scatters violet light much better than red light. If it weren’t for our eyes being more sensitive to blue than violet light, our daytime skies would look violet! Because the light has to travel further during sunrise or sunset to reach our eyes, the Biv side of the family gets scattered out while Roy is seen on a horizon near you.
Now on to talking dirty: pollution and dust. Pollution and dust particles vary greatly in size, but are generally larger than air and light. This means they alter the light so you see smeared colors of a “meh” sunset from dirty skies.
But enough of that filth. Let’s go on to clouds, or water that’s just “big-boned.” Not all clouds are created equal when it comes to sunsets. Clouds that are higher up have less interference, making for a great spectacle down below. Light scattered by clouds posted up in the middle of the troposphere (lowest level of the atmosphere) can signal different weather patterns. Reddish clouds at sunrise could signal a storm coming, while those same clouds at sunset could mean clearer skies, shedding light (pun intended) to the phrase “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky at morning, sailors’ warning.” Low level clouds are rarely invited to pretty sky parties, and only show up when the lower atmosphere is really clean.
And there you have it! So next time you paint with all the colors of the wind for a sick insta-G of a sunset, you’ll know your #itslit caption will work on multiple levels.