Can Smoke Or Pollution Affect Sunsets?

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By By Steve Pool

SEATTLE - Mother Nature does quite the good job in painting spectacular sunsets in the summertime on her own. But other factors can make sunsets even more vibrant.

The brilliant sky colors occur when the sun is low on the horizon and thus the light has more of the atmosphere to go through to get to your eye.

Of the colors that make white light, the reds and oranges have the longest wavelengths, and thus are least likely to be deflected.

So dust and debris in the lower atmosphere will scatter out the sun's blue and green light, leaving just the red, orange, and yellow light to survive.

However, pollution, smoke (from forest fires) or even volcanic ash from a distant eruption can scatter light even more, leaving just the red light to survive and making for a very red sunset.

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