Why the Sun Changes Color

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  • 0:02 The Changing Colors of the Sun
  • 0:34 Wavelengths of Light
  • 2:08 The Setting Sun
  • 3:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

The Sun does not change its true color. However, the way we observe the Sun on Earth makes it appear that the sun changes color. Why this is so is outlined in this lesson.

The Changing Colors of the Sun

For this lesson, you may want to wear some shades as we discuss the true color of the Sun. No doubt you've noticed how during a sunset or sunrise, the Sun has an orange-red hue, while at high noon, the Sun is basically white.

The Sun doesn't actually change color. It is the position of the Sun relative to where you are that results in all those cool and pretty apparent changes in the color of our Sun. This lesson will outline for you why the Sun is one color at high noon and totally something else at sunset.

Wavelengths of Light

Although the Sun is sometimes referred to as a yellow dwarf star, the name itself is a bit misleading since the true color of our Sun is white.

Don't believe me? No problem. Take out a sheet of white paper. Then, shine a red laser onto it. What color will the paper appear now? Red. It appears red because you can clearly tell that the type of color illuminating the white paper represents the color of the source of its illumination. A white piece of paper turned red because a light source of a red color illuminated it.

Now, take that paper outside at high noon and tell me what color it is. It's white - the color of its source of illumination, the Sun. This means that the Sun emits a color of light, white, that represents a rainbow of colors mixed together.

Don't believe me? No problem. If you have a prism, you can split sunlight into its constituent rainbow of colors to see what I mean. A prism is a transparent object that can disperse light into a spectrum. A spectrum is an arrangement of colors, as if in a rainbow.

All of these colors of light have different wavelengths. A wavelength is the distance between two corresponding points of a wave. The image on your screen shows two corresponding points on two different waves. One of them has a shorter wavelength, and the other has a longer wavelength. Some wavelengths of light are shorter than others. Blue has a wavelength that's shorter than green, which is, in turn, shorter than red.

Two wavelengths of light

The Setting Sun

You are now fully ready to understand the changing color of our Sun at sunset or sunrise.

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