Good Question: What Makes A Beautiful Sunrise Or Sunset?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — If you were up early Wednesday morning, you may have noticed the sky filled with beautiful oranges, purples and reds. Lots of Minnesotans did, and posted their sunrise photos to social media. One person even wrote it was like “a gift from the universe.”

So, what makes a beautiful sunrise or sunset? Good Question.

Brock Johnson wants to catch 100 sunrises in a row, getting up at around 5:45 a.m. Wednsday’s was number 9, and maybe his best one yet.

“This morning’s sunrise was bright and red, a lot of little detail in the clouds,” he said. “The colors lasted probably 20 minutes or so.”

So what makes one day awesome, and another just so-so? We asked the scientist — WCCO meteorologist Mike Augustyniak.

“In order to get a beautiful sunrise, you sort of need a dirtier atmosphere,” he said. “‘Air full of stuff’ is a better way to say it. That can be haze, it can be smoke, it can be the moisture droplets when we get a really humid summer afternoon.”

It’s also particularly nice when there are ice crystals in the air, like Wednesday morning.

“So tiny that your eye can’t see them as clouds, but they still do the job of reflecting and refracting that sunlight,” Augustyniak said.

Sunrises and sunsets work kind of like rainbows — things in the air bend and reflect the light we see. When the sun is overhead, we see the light as blue. When it’s at the horizon, the light takes a longer path and we see orange and red.

“There’s more stuff for the light to travel through before it gets to your eye,” Augustyniak said.

Clouds can also provide a nice canvas, and so can where we are in life.

“Even if they’re not bright and colorful, there’s still something about being up before the city is awake,” Johnson said.

You might remember some beautiful sunsets last summer when there were big wildfires in Canada. Mike Augustyniak says those tiny smoke particles — so small we couldn’t see them — created the colors we saw.

More from Heather Brown
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