Sky - During The Day

During The Day

See also: Atmospheric optics

Except for light that comes directly from the sun, most of the light in the day sky is a result of scattering, which is dominated by a small-particle limit called Rayleigh Scattering. The scattering due to molecule sized particles (as in air) is greater in the forward and backward directions than it is in the lateral direction. Scattering is significant for light at all visible wavelengths, but it is stronger at the shorter (bluer) end of the visible spectrum, meaning that that the scattered light is more blue than its source, the sun. The remaining sunlight, having lost some of its short wavelength components, appears slightly less blue.

Scattering also occurs even more strongly in clouds. Individual water droplets exposed to white light will create a set of colored rings. If a cloud is thick enough, scattering from multiple water droplets will wash out the set of colored rings and create a washed out white color.

The sky can turn a multitude of colors such as red, orange, purple and yellow (especially near sunset or sunrise) when the light must pass through a much longer path (or optical depth) through the atmosphere. Scattering effects also partially polarize light from the sky, most pronounced at an angle 90° from the sun. Scattered light from the horizon has traveled through as much as 38 times the atmosphere than has light from the zenith, causing it to lose blue components. The result is a blue gradient — vivid at the zenith, pale near the horizon. Because red light scatters as well if there is enough air in between the source and the observer, these longer wavelengths of light will also scatter significantly, making parts of the sky change color during a sunset. As the amount of atmosphere nears infinity, the scattered light appears more and more white.

The sun is not the only object that may appear less blue in atmosphere. Far away clouds or snowy mountaintops will seem yellow as well; that effect is not obvious on clear days, but very pronounced when clouds are covering the line of sight reducing the blue hue from scattered sunlight. At higher altitudes, the sky trends to darker colors, since scattering is reduced due to lower air density; an extreme example is the moon, where there is no atmosphere and no scattering, making the sky on the moon black even when the sun is visible.

Sky luminance distribution models have been recommended by the International Commission on Illumination (CIE) for the design of daylighting schemes. Recent developments relate to “all sky models” for modelling sky luminance under weather conditions ranging from clear sky to overcast.

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