WASHINGTON -- If you were up early enough you may have gotten a glimpse of a beautiful sunrise over DC. It was like an artist took a brush and painted the sky purple and orange.
So what causes these beautiful colors at sunrise and sunset? The short answer: light and length.
At sunrise and sunset, sunlight takes a longer path as it travels through the atmosphere. This allows for more blue light to be scattered and reds and oranges to be more visible.
Now let's slap a little more science on that answer.
Sunlight produces a spectrum of colors. Yep, there are reds, violets, blues, and orange hues and they travel in waves to reach the earth.
You can think of these lights as roads. Blues light takes short roads (short waves) and orange and reds take long roads (long waves).
During sunset and sunrise, the sun is at a lower angle in the sky and sunlight hops on the longer road to get to the earth. The blue light get bumped out of the way (scattered even more ) and the red and orange hues are more dominant. Basically the sunlight has to travel through more of the atmosphere to reach us.
Sidebar - Why does the sky appear blue?
During day blue light is scattered in many directions by the gas and particles in the air. Blue light is scattered more than other colors and it has a shorter path, which is why the sky appears blue during the day.
Best time of the year for sunrise and sunset
Late fall and winter are the optimal times to view sunrises and sunsets in the United States. During the summer months, air can become a little more stagnant and smog and haze are more prominent in the summer. (Photochemical processes that favor smog and haze formation are more active in summer).
Happy sunset and sunrise viewing!