Blazing Wildfire Sunsets And Why The Sky Is Painted Red In Montana
There certainly aren't many positives regarding wildfires here in Montana.
But one thing is sure: they help produce some pretty epic sunsets!
But what causes the evening to change into a fiery red?
The answer lies in the smoke that billows from those raging infernos.
The Marvel of Sunsets
Before we dive into the science, let's talk about sunsets. When the sun starts to set, its light has to pass through a thicker layer of the Earth's atmosphere before reaching our eyes.
This journey causes the shorter wavelengths of light, like blue and violet, to scatter in all directions, leaving the longer wavelengths, such as red, orange, and pink, to dominate our view.
The Smoke's Secret
Now, let's add wildfire smoke to the mix.
When a wildfire burns, it releases tiny particles called "particulate matter" into the air.
These tiny particles are smaller, measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (much thinner than human hair!).
The Magic of Scattering
Here comes the magic - these tiny smoke particles can scatter sunlight.
During the day, they scatter all the colors of sunlight, making the sky hazy.
However, something special happens when the sun is low on the horizon or hidden behind thick smoke during a wildfire.
A Symphony of Colors
The smoke particles interact with the sunlight in a way that is different from the gas molecules in our atmosphere.
As the sunlight passes through the smoke-filled air, it scatters more of the longer wavelengths (red, orange, and pink) than the shorter ones (blue and violet).
This scattering process causes the sky to appear red or orange, even during daylight hours.
A Canvas of Beauty and Concern
So, the next time you witness a red or orange sky during a wildfire, you'll know it's because of the smoke's interaction with sunlight.