Why beautiful sunset colors are different every day

Light scattering creates dazzling effect

By Candace Campos - Meteorologist

A NOAA photo of a sunset with fiery oranges and reds.

Living in Central Florida, we are lucky to experience beautiful sunsets. But have you ever wondered why some sunsets' colors are more radiant than others?

The vibrant orange and red coloration during sunsets result from sunlight bouncing off of suspended particles in the atmosphere, in a process called light scattering. These colors, seen by the naked eye, begin their process by reflecting the blue and violet shades. As the light bounces from particle to particle in the atmosphere, the colors gradually move along the spectrum into the orange and red shades. The longer the wave of light travels, the redder the light becomes.

In the afternoon, the sun sits straight above the Earth's surface. At this point in the day, the distance between the sun and the surface of the Earth is the shortest. As the sun travels toward the horizon, the sun's rays need to travel longer through the Earth's atmosphere. This is why the sky takes on a vibrant blue color in the day and a more amber color in the evening.

Along with the sun's angle, cloud placement in the sky can also play a role in the coloring of the sky. Although cloud-free sunsets can be beautiful, a few additional clouds could actually help spread the color of the setting sun even more, creating a picture-perfect sunset.

The most brilliant sunsets in Central Florida occur when the sun sets to your west and clouds linger to your east. The added cloud cover acts as a reflector, bouncing the traveling light for a longer period of time in the Earth's atmosphere. 

The next time you witness a sunset that stops you dead in your tracks, you'll know how that sunset became such a show-stopper.

Copyright 2018 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.