B1 Intermediate US 17761 Folder Collection
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The sky is not blue – it’s mostly transparent air which is, at best, the color of whatever
light it scatters. Sure, it does scatter blue light more than red light; in fact, the higher
the frequency of light, the more it gets scattered by the atmosphere, so ultraviolet scatters
more than blue, which scatters more than green, more than yellow, more than red, more than
infrared – but still, only a tiny bit of light scatters while most of it goes straight
through, which is, you know, how the sun can light up the ground, why we can see the moon
and stars, etc.
The sun itself actually emits a wide range of frequencies of light, and our human eyes
perceive this particular combination as "white” or neutral in color. The vast majority of
the sky appears blueish because sunlight that was trying to go somewhere else got scattered
by the air and instead ended up in your eye. Bummer. It still has a wide range of frequencies
in it, but with slightly more blue than in white light, roughly the same amount of green,
and less red.
You can see a simple demonstration of this on a computer if I take a white background,
add a bit of deep blue and subtract a tiny bit of pure red: I get a nice sky color!
And the reverse effect happens when you look near the sun – light that was trying to
get to your eyes gets scattered away, and so the remaining light has a lot less blue
and slightly more red compared with white light, which is why the sun and the sky directly
around it appear yellowish during the day! At sunset, there’s even more air for the
light to scatter off of before it reaches you, hence the even richer oranges and reds.
And of course you can do the computer demo again, this time subtracting pure blue and
adding a little red: voila! Noontime sun. Subtract more blue and add even more red?
Sunset orange.
So, the sky is not blue; it’s a stage upon which all colors dance. Red colors tend to
dance in straighter lines, green colors more randomly, and deep blue colors dance the most
frenetically of all. Yet at some point, they ultimately dance their way into your eyes,
and my eyes, and to the earth and into space, so that everyone everywhere can appreciate
the grand ballet
of light.
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Why is the Sun Yellow and the Sky Blue?

17761 Folder Collection
Ashley Chen published on January 4, 2015
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