Nov 22, 2012

Why is the sky blue?

The sunlight interacting with the Earth's atmosphere makes the sky blue. In outer space the astronauts see blackness because outer space has no atmosphere. Sunlight consists of light waves of varying wavelengths, each of which is seen as a different color. The minute particles of matter and molecules of air in the atmosphere intercept and scatter the white light of the sun. A larger portion of the blue color in white light is scattered, more so than any other color because the blue wavelengths are the shortest. When the size of atmospheric particles are smaller than the wavelengths of the colors, selective scattering occurs - the particles only scatter one color and the atmosphere will appear to be that color. Blue wavelengths especially are affected, bouncing off the air particles to become visible. This is why the sun looks yellow (yellow equals white minus blue). At sunset, the sky changes color because as the sun drops to the horizon, sunlight has more atmosphere to pass through and loses more of its blue wavelengths (the shortest of all the colors). The orange and red, having the longer wavelengths and making up more of sunlight at this distance, are most likely to be scattered by the air particles. (The Handy Science Answer Book, compiled by the Science and Technology department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)