Sunset

Photo by JOE BARATY

The best sunsets occur in the fall and winter months because the air along the path of the ray of sunlight is dryer and cleaner this time of year.

Unless you are color-blind or just terribly preoccupied with your busy life, you couldn’t help but notice the stunning sunrises and sunsets we have been experiencing lately. Seems a day doesn’t go by that some fledgling photographer like me isn’t plastering pictures all over social media.

Maybe it’s simply that I have slowed down enough to finally take notice, but I honestly can’t remember a year when the skies have been lit up with such regularity and intensity. I joked the other day with my co-workers that I almost wrecked my car twice coming to work because I was sky-watching and not road-watching. Actually, it wasn’t a joke at all.

Being the inquisitive soul that I am, I wanted to know more about what was behind this recent phenomenon. I needed some answers. What actually causes the skies to become ablaze? Is there any truth to the myths of these occurrences being weather predictors? So I did some research and learned some pretty cool stuff.

Before I begin, however, a quick but pertinent claim: I have always had a great unfamiliarity regarding anything related to science. No, that’s not quite strong enough. I am just plain stupid when it comes to science. The vocabulary, the concepts, all of it is French to me. I mention this so you understand that this research that I did was a painstaking exercise and that any conclusions or interpretations on my part must be taken in this light.

For example, the first website I visited discussed electromagnetic radiation, a wide spectrum of wavelengths and boundary layers, all in the first paragraph. French. All French to me. The next two websites I visited were no easier to understand. I did, however, come across a kid’s science website that used smaller more intelligible words.

I’m still studying, even as I write this article. But I’ll share a few interesting tidbits that I found pretty cool.

The sky is really purple, not blue. Humans see the sky as blue because the sensitivity of our eyes peaks in the middle [green] part of the spectrum—that is, closer to blue than to purple. Don’t ask me what that means; I don’t speak French.

Certain animals, deer for one, do not have the same visual limitations that we have and see much more in the way of colors than we can. I can only imagine what the sunsets look like to a deer. Perhaps that explains why they enjoy staring into my car’s headlights for so long.

I have also wondered why certain nights have fabulous colorful sunsets and some nights have none at all. Apparently, there is a great sunset every night; we just can’t always see it from the ground. It has something to do with the visible wavelengths of the wide spectrum of wavelengths produced by the electromagnetic radiation given off by the sun. More French, but interesting.

And why all of the sudden are we getting all these great sunsets? Come to find out, the best sunsets occur in the fall and winter months. This is simply due to the fact that the air along the path of the ray of sunlight is dryer and cleaner this time of year. I actually understood that one.

Now, about this weather predictor ability … you know, red sky in the morning, red sky at night stuff. Any truth to all this?

Like most things that deal with the weather, the answer is absolutely! Just not all the time. We know there has to be some validity to the saying, for even Jesus referenced it in Matthew 16, and that’s a pretty reliable source.

I borrowed some French from the Library of Congress website to explain: “When we see a red sky at night, this means that the setting sun is sending its light through a high concentration of dust particles. This usually indicates high pressure and stable air coming in from the west. Basically good weather will follow.”

“A red sunrise can mean that a high pressure system (good weather) has already passed, thus indicating that a storm system (low pressure) may be moving to the east. A morning sky that is a deep, fiery red can indicate that there is high water content in the atmosphere. So, rain could be on its way.”

The key words to all of this would be “may” and “could be.” So take your umbrella, don’t take your umbrella, whatever suits your fancy. Honestly, it’s all just a bit too scientific for my taste. I believe I’ll just stick with taking pictures and posting them on Facebook.

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