At night, the sky is dark blue due to atmospheric scattering of sunlight. Blue light scatters more readily than red light due to shorter wavelengths being more easily diffused into space.
Answer is straightforward physics: as the Sun gets lower in the sky, more of its light passes through your atmosphere to reach you – this means more blue light gets scattered, leaving less to compete with reds and yellows.
Light from the Sun
As the Sun sets lower at night, more of its light must pass through atmosphere to reach your eyes – more blue hues scatter away, leaving only reds and yellows reaching our vision – making the horizon seem paler or white, giving rise to phrases such as “out of the blue”. This phenomenon gives rise to another saying “Out of the Blue”.
When the color blue fills the sky, it often indicates the presence of sunlight. At any given moment during the day, sunlight hits molecules in our atmosphere and scatters off in all directions, producing blue skies. Although Moon and starlight also scatter off into space, its impact is far less obvious due to their greater distance from us than our Sun does.
At night, when the Sun isn’t near enough to light the sky with blue hues, it appears dark. But this doesn’t stop its radiation from reaching down into our atmosphere and being reflected off particles of nitrogen and oxygen molecules – creating the effect known as night glow. Rayleigh scattering gives the sky its distinctive blue color. More blue wavelengths are scattered than other wavelengths, creating the effect that makes the sky appear bluer than other hues. This effect becomes particularly evident at higher altitudes where atmospheric molecules scatter more light – hence why there is often a period just after sunset and before sunrise known as the “blue hour,” although its exact timing depends on your location, time of year, and air quality.
As sunlight reaches Earth’s atmosphere it is scattered all directions by molecules composed of oxygen and nitrogen atoms and airborne particles – known as molecules and particles – in the air. Light which hits these molecules or particles scatters more strongly at shorter wavelengths of the spectrum; this phenomenon is called Rayleigh scattering and leads to an excess of blue light reaching down toward Earth’s surface, giving its characteristic color and giving sky its distinctive hue.
If we didn’t have an atmosphere (like on the Moon), our skies would appear black during daylight hours. Thanks to our atmosphere, they remain blue!
At sunset, when the Sun is low in the sky it passes through more of Earth’s atmosphere than when directly overhead and more blue light from it is scattered to create reddish-tinged beams from it.
Sunlight from other colors scatters less due to molecules in the atmosphere that scatter photons of light, such as water vapor and dust particles that weigh more than the photons being scattered. Therefore, heavier molecules – water vapor and dust particles – tend to stay closer to Earth than lighter gases and particles, creating what’s known as Mie scattering that gives skies their white hue near horizons as well as creating the vibrant orange and red colors associated with sunrises and sunsets.
As sunlight reaches Earth’s atmosphere it becomes scattered by gases and particles present. This phenomenon, called Rayleigh scattering, tends to disperse shorter wavelengths (such as blue) more readily than longer ones ( like red). Longer wavelengths pass straight through without being dispersed – that’s why we see blue skies.
Ozone gas in the atmosphere absorbs certain wavelengths of light to give the sky its characteristic hue, as well as protecting us against skin cancer by absorbing UV rays from the sun.
At night, sunlight travels through an atmosphere in which there is less ozone; thus absorbing less. Since sunlight passes through lower layers where ozone molecules are scarcer, more light may reach our eyes in the form of blue hued light than is normal.
As the sun sets, its light must travel through even more of the atmosphere as it nears the horizon and be reddened more by Rayleigh scattering than during the day – thus less of it reaching our eyes as blueish light. Our eyes still experience stimulation by blue wavelengths but more strongly mixed with indigo and violet wavelengths which give the sky its color.
Light travels along a straight path until it comes into contact with something that alters its path, such as dust particles or molecules of oxygen or nitrogen in the atmosphere. Once hit by such objects, light is scattered all directions depending on their size and how effectively they absorb or scatter light – hence why we see blue sky during the day, while at night all colors of the spectrum meld together into one uniform dark blue color.
Daytime skies appear light blue because sunlight from the Sun passes through Earth’s atmosphere where gas molecules scatter visible wavelengths like blue more than red and orange ones; our eyes perceive this process as Rayleigh Scattering.
As the day unfolds, a gradual reddish hue gradually appears in the sky due to sunlight having passed through more of the atmosphere nearer to the horizon, where air molecules scatter less of it compared to higher altitudes where it enters it – giving a reddish tint in sunset and sunrise skies.
Blue Origin suborbital flights give visitors the experience of seeing space without Earth’s atmosphere, creating black skies as one of many phenomena they witness first-hand. This effect occurs due to how different wavelengths of sunlight interact with space environment.
Light from the Sun enters Earth’s atmosphere and interacts with gases (mainly nitrogen and oxygen ) and particles in our air, producing what is known as Rayleigh scattering, making our skies look bluer during daylight and becoming darker at night. Short blue wavelengths get scattered more than longer wavelengths such as red or orange ones; this explains why our eyes see dark blue sky at night.
As you ascend further into the atmosphere, light gets less reflective, which explains why the sky appears white at very high altitudes and why the Moon appears with a pale blue-white color at night, being so far below Earth’s surface at such altitudes.
Auroras, or aurora borealis and aurora australis, are visible when solar activity is high at high altitudes on Earth’s planet surface. Their formation results from electrically charged particles from the Sun colliding with molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere containing nitrogen and oxygen molecules causing collisions that create these colorful ribbons of light to dance across our northern and southern poles, producing auroral displays at both ends.
Collisions caused by solar flares and coronal mass ejections transfer energy from the Sun into molecules, which emit colorful hues into our skies – similar to neon lights on storefront signs but much grander scale. Auroras occur on an 11-year cycle known as the solar cycle with periods of peak activity followed by more tranquil times.
Aurora Australis occurs when energetic electrons from space collide with atmospheric elements on Earth, creating a spectacular light show consisting of various colors: green (from specific sodium transitions), red (from excited oxygen atoms), pinkish-reds and blue violets from nitrogen ions and molecules; these hues may often be visible around the South Pole but they can appear anywhere on the globe when Sun’s magnetic activity reaches enough of a threshold level, such as solar flares or coronal mass ejections that trigger them off.
Scientists don’t yet fully understand what causes auroras, but they do know it’s caused by the same process that gives the sky its blue hue: light being scattered more strongly by air molecules close to Earth’s surface than further away. At higher altitudes, light scattering increases and wavelengths longer than violet get absorbed more effectively by atmosphere molecules.
So when the nighttime sky appears dark blue, remember it’s an amazing and useful phenomenon brought about by Earth’s atmosphere. Being in space only heightens this experience further, as you witness blue-white stars against an otherwise black backdrop; one of the many memories astronauts report when returning home after space flights is this experience! For instance, check out NASA’s image of Aurora Australis overlaid onto The Blue Marble image.