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Why are sunrises so colorful?

Posted: 9:46 AM, Feb 07, 2017
Updated: 2017-02-07 12:46:39-05

Days are getting longer little by little each day, and that means you'll have to get up earlier and earlier to see one of those colorful sunrises.

But have you ever wondered why sunrise colors vary so much?

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Sunrises — and sunsets — are so colorful because of something called scattering.

When the sun is high in the sky, the light travels straight through a thin layer of the atmosphere. The atmosphere scatters the light into its individual colors, and the longer red wavelengths are scattered away while the shorter blue wavelengths are scattered across the sky, which is why the sky appears blue.

When the sun is low on the horizon during the sunrise or sunset, the light must travel through much more of the atmosphere. Because the light is traveling through more atmosphere, there's more scattering and only the longer wavelengths of red, orange and yellow make it through.

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