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This is the reason why sunsets are so beautiful.

We explore the science behind beautiful skies, and why we see certain colors when the
sun is low on the horizon.
 

Profile picture for user Martijn.Donkersloot
WeatherPro
29 May 2019

This is the reason why sunsets are so beautiful.

We explore the science behind beautiful skies, and why we see certain colors when the
sun is low on the horizon.
 

Profile picture for user Martijn.Donkersloot
WeatherPro
29 May 2019
4 min read

There are few natural marvels that capture the heart as completely as a beautiful sunset. Hues
of gold, orange, red, pink and purple set the sky alight invoking passion, inspiration, triumph,
and romance.
But what causes the sky to catch fire as the sun rises and sets? And why are some sunsets so
much more colorful than others? Below, we discuss the science behind sunrises and sunsets
and the conditions needed to get that brilliant romantic view your date deserves.

Image
man-sitting-on-edge-facing-sunset

Not all sunsets are created equal

Now of course, not every sunset is going on the back of a travel brochure. Some sunsets are more vibrant and colorful than others. There are several factors that can affect the vividness of a setting sun:

Air Quality:

  • Contrary to popular belief, pollution in the lower atmosphere does not make great sunsets. In fact, haze and other large particles in the air mute the colors of the sky rather than enhance them. In polluted areas you’ll be more likely to see greyish pink skies rather than crisp oranges and reds. Clean air is the key ingredient for beautiful for a beautiful sunrise and sunset.

  • This is also true for blue skies. In areas where the air is clear, the sky will appear a much darker, richer blue. In areas with pollution, the sky will be a hazy light blue, and in areas with high levels of pollution, the sky may appear a pale grey, even when there are no clouds in the sky.
     

Clouds:

  • The sun’s rays are most easily appreciated when there is something big and fluffy in the sky to absorb and reflect their wavelengths. At the right density, clouds can act as the canvas on which nature’s colors are painted. But of course, if the clouds are too dense, not enough light will be able to pass through them, and the cloud will appear dark and muted.

  • Generally, the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets are observed in the presence of clouds between 5 and 12 kilometres above sea level. Clouds also give us the chance to appreciate color long after the sun has dipped below the horizon. Even after the sun has set, we can still see red light that reflects down from high altitude clouds (Cirrus and Altocumulus in particular).

  • Of course, if clouds completely cover the sky, and block out the incoming light, we won’t see any color at all.

Never miss a perfect sunset again. With the WeatherPro mobile app for iOS and Android, get cloud coverage, air quality readings, and temperature data from the most reliable weather providers in the world.

About the author

Profile picture for user Martijn.Donkersloot
WeatherPro

At WeatherPro, we believe that good things happen when people step outside and great things happen to those who are prepared. We strive to empower life’s outdoor moments. #stepoutside