The Secret Behind Stunning Sunsets


Angel Brown

How the sky should look.

We awe at sunsets every evening as the pinks, reds, and oranges settle into the sky. We take our phones out and snap a picture to share with our friends, but what actually makes the sunset so beautiful? Truthfully, the colors in the sky are caused by pollution in the air.

Here’s how it works: There are particles in the air and when light hits these particles, it gets redirected. This is called scattering. Early in the day, sunlight doesn’t have many layers to cut through and it hits smaller, normal particles. This sets the blue/violet scene of our everyday lives throughout the day. But when the sun is rising or setting and it’s low on the horizon, there are more layers for the sunlight to cut through and much bigger particles redirecting the light and causing heavy scattering. This is what makes our sky such a deep red/orange in the mornings and in the evenings. Where do the particles come from? The particles come from air pollution, bushfires, volcanic eruption, and even season change. When more of these particles get in the air and redirect sunlight, that’s when our sky transforms into a deeper hue than normal. So when you visit places like Beijing, which has extremely polluted air, the sky is an extreme red, much deeper than the red/orange skies we see everyday. As pretty and fascinating as these skies can be, this beauty comes at an extreme cost.

Now that we know exactly what causes our skies to be so pretty, let’s talk about how we can reduce air pollution and why it’s important to do so. We only have one earth and we need to take care of it while we can. Even if you don’t care, other people do and it’s important to think about the consequences our laziness and lack of effort will entail. Something easy to start doing is carpooling, biking, or walking to get places. Our cars emit crazy amounts of pollution into the air, and if there’s no need to drive, don’t start up your car. Something else that will help is by getting gas when it’s cooler outside. This is because, as a liquid, gas is denser when it’s cool and reduces emission into the air. You also get more gas when you purchase it in the cooler times of the day, so it’s a win-win. You can also avoid burning things outside, such as leaves and garbage, as the smoke emits into the air. And while this story is about air pollution and the way it affects the sky, it’s also important to realize that any pollution in general is bad for the environment. Don’t throw your trash out the window while you’re driving, don’t throw trash on the sidewalks, and if you see trash anywhere other than in a trash can, pick it up and help our planet.

While we love our sky and the scene it can create with a certain palette of colors, we should understand that our planet is more important than the sunset. So let’s start taking care of the earth and putting in the effort to reduce air pollution and any pollution in general, even if that means the sunset won’t be as vibrant.