Light Scattering

When I was driving to work this morning I took the above picture with my Blackberry (which, I might add, has a terrible camera) while stopped at a red light.  You’ll have to take my word that the colors were orders of magnitude more vibrant than the photo shows.

The physics behind a beautiful sunrise or sunset is actually quite interesting and can be explained by Rayleigh scattering.   When the sun is high in a clear sky, its electromagnetic waves pass through its shortest path to our view on earth (perpendicular to the atmosphere) and therefore only the smaller wavelengths of the sun’s light get scattered on the small molecules in the upper atmosphere and that scattering of blue/purple light is what gives our sky its light blue hue.  This also explains why our Sun appears yellow to us since much of the blue components have been filtered out of its light spectrum by the atmosphere.    

When the sun is rising or setting its light waves are now passing at a shallow angle through the atmosphere to our viewing point so now there is more opportunity for additional blue/purple waves to be scattered and the light that is left to hit our eyes is now deep orange instead of bright yellow.

When the sky is clear (no clouds, no pollution, no volcanic ash, etc.) the sunrises and sunsets don’t produce the spectacular colors that are afforded us on a morning like today in the upstate of South Carolina.  It is from these ‘impurities’ that the interactions between the Sun’s light and the atmosphere produce the most striking colors available in our sky.

That got me to thinking about my imperfections and my relationship with God.  His Light is shining on me but I am not perfect either (as my wife could surely testify!).  Too often I tend to focus on those imperfections and try to hide them, explain them away and use them as excuses why I can’t do more.  But just as spectacular sunrises are produced as a result of imperfections in the atmosphere, so too can our life be spectacular because of our imperfections (not in spite of). 

Each one of us is unique and can scatter light in a very specific and beautiful way that God had planned before we were born.  Use the physics of the sunrise as motivation to embrace your imperfections, allow the Light to shine on them and from that magnificent scattering others will see your beauty and God will be glorified. 

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5 Responses to Light Scattering

  1. Love this post. Keep up the tying of physics with politics and daily life. It’s fascinating.

  2. Bob Mack says:

    In Obama’s Socialist universe, all wavelengths are to be equal. Beautiful sunsets are a function of capitalism.

  3. cosmoscon says:

    Thanks Rogueoperator for the motivation!

    Bob, Only 407 more days to go before he leaves the WH. But who’s counting? ME!

  4. Pingback: Hilton Head Island Sunrise | cosmoscon

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