First Alert Weather In-Depth: Why do sunsets have colors?
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — What a gorgeous sunset we had Wednesday night in Western New York and the Finger Lakes.
We ended the day with a treat on Wednesday as the sun showed its true colors with amazing red, and abundant oranges. But, why do sunsets look this way? It’s all about refraction and reflection.
Refraction is when a medium bends the direction of light while reflection is when light bounces off of a surface. These two phenomena played the role of giving us the beautiful colors we saw Wednesday night.
During the day, the sun’s light takes a shorter distance to travel to you on the Earth’s surface as compared to at night. This is key, because light that travels into our atmosphere scattered due to the composition of the Earth. With that said, the shortened distance during the day causes less of the light to scatter — which is why we see the bright ball of yellow we see. However, during the evening, the sun’s rays have to travel further to get to us on Earth’s surface. With that said, the closer you are to red light, the less scattering.
This means that the other colors are scattered and are lost in the atmosphere letting red and orange being the primary colors that reach our eyes. Not only that, but the clouds play a big role too! Clouds reflect the sun’s light, and this lets more light hit out eyes which enhances the colors we can see with our eyes.