It doesn’t take much to come across a breathtaking sunset. Sometimes, even if we can’t see a multicolored phenomenon from our home window, just take a look at Instagram to appreciate the stunning view of someone from somewhere in the world. But do you know why this happens?
“What we see with our human eyes is a small amount of electromagnetic radiation emitted by the Sun. This radiation contains a varied spectrum of wavelengths, but our eyes are sensitive to only specific pieces of these waves: the visible waves. In other words, different colors are associated with different wavelengths ”, explains Stephen Corfidi, a meteorologist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in the USA.
According to the scientist, a beautiful sunset depends, of course, from the perspective of the beholder. They happen to be beautiful and have vivid colors every night, varying only according to the amount of molecules they find in the atmosphere until they reach us. When they run into these molecules, they show other results.
“You can tell when you take off with a plane in the late afternoon. The sunset may not even be a big deal from the ground, just whitish pink, but that’s because you’re still ‘stuck’ in the boundary layer of the atmosphere, which concentrates particles like dust and pollution. Now, as soon as the plane passes that layer and plunges into clean air, suddenly everything is vivid ”, he explains.
Perfect sunset obstacles
We talk a lot about molecules, but what do they really cause in visible waves? When a ray of light hits these elements, a phenomenon called dispersion occurs, says Stephen. That is, some of the waves are diverted to different directions – a process that is repeated thousands of times until the light reaches our eyes.
“The two main molecules in the air are oxygen and nitrogen, which are much smaller than others. Thus, they divert only the shortest waves, the blue and violet. This explains why the sky is usually blue during the day. It would look purple if the sensitivity of our eyes was more inclined to another spectrum ”.
As the path taken is much more “stony” when the sun goes down – and it finds much more than just small particles ahead – things change. If the star was born in the East and is setting in the West – which is not always the case – the distance to reach our home is much greater; therefore, depending on the obstacles, some waves simply do not reach us, being absorbed and filtered by them.
“So, there is really a beautiful sunset every night. We just don’t see it from the ground ”.
It is never too much to remember: the sun is the same for everyone. So the late afternoon lights for you are the same as those of a less advanced afternoon elsewhere. “Everything is connected. As humans, we tend to think of color as something concrete, but the colors you see depend on the path the light takes before it reaches you, just as they depend on how objects reflect that light and how sensitive your eyes are. There are no absolute statements in color perception. It’s really unsettling when you start thinking about it ”.
Contrary to some theories, according to the meteorologist, pollution does not necessarily make things more dramatic. There are greater chances that the colors will become paler. In addition, the seasons also play a role, given the variation in air humidity.
The fact is that by the time you are finally charmed by the sunset, it has actually set. What is witnessed is a kind of mirage – the light reflected on the horizon by refraction. However, the most beautiful part of it is that other animals see colors completely different from ours, since their eyes catch waves that we don’t catch. It is possible that their world is much more colorful.
“The more you think, the more you understand that your experience is really unique as a human being right now, in a specific place on a given planet”, he concludes.
As a well-known Disney song said, each plant, stone or creature is alive and has a soul: it is a being!