Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Why sky is blue in colour?

  1. Sep 10, 2011 #1
    why sky is blue in colour??

    why sky is blue in colour??
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 10, 2011 #2

    Ken G

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Re: sky

    The reason the sky emits any light at all is because it is scattering sunlight. The particles responsible for scattering sunlight typically are best at resonating with light at a much higher frequency than sunlight, so they see the electromagnetic waves coming from the Sun as rather "slow." In a classical description, this means the restoring forces on the electrons responsible for scattering that light is easily able to stay in close balance with the electric forces coming from the wave. That in turn means that, for a given intensity of light of either red or blue color, the amplitude of the oscillation of the electron is the same for both colors (think of a little springs that deliver forces in proportion to the distance they are stretched, so same force, same distance, same amplitude of oscillation).

    Now you might think if red and blue light were creating the same amplitude of electron oscillation, they would scatter equally, but that's not the case-- the amount of light emitted by the electron depends on the square of its acceleration, so if you have oscillation at some frequency f, the square of the acceleration scales with f4. That means light at a factor of 2 higher frequency (like very blue light compared to very red light) will actually be emitted 16 times more. This is called "Rayleigh scattering."
     
  4. Sep 10, 2011 #3
  5. Sep 10, 2011 #4

    Ken G

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Re: sky

    To me, that Wiki entry is somewhat wanting. For example, early on, it says "It can occur when light travels through transparent solids and liquids, but is most prominently seen in gases", yet the only equations it gives relate to particles with a refractive index. It seems to ignore how atoms and small molecules (like nitrogen) Rayleigh scatter. Also, it claims to "explain" how the process works, but in fact it only refers to a formula, and claims that the formula is an explanation. I appreciate that the article is kept short and sweet, but to me, it really doesn't explain much of anything about why the sky is blue.
     
  6. Sep 10, 2011 #5
    Re: sky

    Rayleigh scatter is not limited to atoms and molecules. It can be caused by any small structure e.g. crystallographic defects. Therefore an detailed explanation should not be limited to molecules.
     
  7. Sep 10, 2011 #6

    Ken G

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Re: sky

    That is not what I said-- I pointed out that the Wiki is limited to particles with an index of refraction. It does not treat how atoms and small molecules (like nitrogen) Rayleigh scatter, which is rather important for the blue sky in clear conditions. More importantly, by focusing on a derived formula rather than the fundamental physics, it fails to unify the key element of all Rayleigh scattering-- scattering due to charge oscillations with amplitude that has no intrinsic dependence on frequency.
     
  8. Sep 10, 2011 #7
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  9. Sep 10, 2011 #8

    Andy Resnick

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2016 Award

    Re: sky

    Is it? Is the sky always a single shade of blue? When (or where) is it not blue?

    Answering these questions will help you understand the mechanisms.
     
  10. Sep 10, 2011 #9
    Re: sky

    Woops! I have always believed (and taught) that the blue color of clear daytime skies was the result of scattering of photons having "blue" wavelengths. You seem to imply that it is also the result of emission of blue light by atmospheric constituents. If I am interpreting what you said correctly, could you please provide a citation.
     
  11. Sep 10, 2011 #10

    Ken G

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Re: sky

    The emission I refer to is just the tail end of the scattering process that you refer to. In a classical description, the incident light causes the electrons in the particles to oscillate, and that in turn causes emission, according to the Larmor emission formula. The key point is that if the frequencies involved are "slow" from the perspective of the atom's natural response period (or the particle's light crossing time), then the oscillation is essentially in force balance, and so its amplitude has no intrinsic dependence on frequency, it only depends on the field strength. Then the scattering of "white" incident light will depend only on the fourth power of frequency, appropriate to the Larmor emission formula whenever the amplitude is fixed.
     
  12. Sep 10, 2011 #11

    Drakkith

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Re: sky

    What's it called when you explain something in terms so advanced the person probably has no chance in understanding? I think that might have happened here. :biggrin:
     
  13. Sep 11, 2011 #12
    Re: sky

    Ken G,

    I "think" I understand most of what you are saying, although the needle on my "jargon meter" is pinned. However, I am still waiting for a citation.
     
  14. Sep 11, 2011 #13

    Ken G

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Re: sky

    I don't understand, why would I cite something in support of something I did not say and is not true? What you taught your students is correct-- the blue sky is scattered light, just as I said above. What I said would be confirmed by any basic physics textbook that endeavors to actually explain the root cause of the microphysics of Rayleigh scattering, and not just cite a formula involving indices of refraction (which are derived from the microphysics anyway). Also, the only jargon I invoked is the Larmor formula, which seems pretty essential to the issue.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2011
  15. Sep 11, 2011 #14

    Drakkith

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Re: sky

    He is just describing part of how scattering works I believe. It's still scattering, not emission.
     
  16. Sep 12, 2011 #15
    Re: sky

    Ken,

    I surrender. I freely admit that you obviously know more about electron physics than I do.

    In my weak defense, I can only say that I was thrown by your use of the terms "emitting" and "emitted" in your post #2. I had always considered molecular emissions to be quite different from molecular scattering. Obviously I was wrong.
     
  17. Sep 12, 2011 #16

    Ken G

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Re: sky

    The term "emission" does get used in different ways, so you are right to want to make it very clear exactly how that term is being used. "Absorb" is even worse-- some people think of scattering as an "absorption-and-emission" process, but others reserve "absorb" for when the photon is destroyed and any new emission is a new process.
     
  18. Sep 13, 2011 #17
    Re: sky

    As far as "absorption" goes, the latter has always been my understanding. I understood that absorption caused the photon to cease to exist. Perhaps it's simplistic, but I used to teach that when the interaction of a photon with an air molecule caused the path of the photon to change, it could be considered as "scattering". When the photon's path remained unchanged and the photon continued to exist after interacting with an air molecule, the "transmission" was said to occur.

    For the purposes of developing atmospheric heat budgets, this level of sophistication appeared to be adequate.
     
  19. Sep 14, 2011 #18

    Ken G

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Re: sky

    Yes, those are very common usages of those terms.
     
  20. Sep 15, 2011 #19
    Re: sky

    The blue color of the sky is caused by the scattering of sunlight off the molecules of the atmosphere


    http://afterschoolclubideas.co.uk// [Broken]
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook




Similar Discussions: Why sky is blue in colour?
  1. Why sky is blue? (Replies: 7)

  2. Why is the sky blue? (Replies: 23)

Loading...