Monday, July 5, 2021

Is the sun yellow?

11:19 PM | ,

Is the sun yellow?

Usually, young imaginations paint the celestial body of the Sun in hues of yellow, orange, or even red. But have you ever pondered over the actual color of the Sun? How would you go about discerning its true color (without directly staring at it, of course)? Let's embark on an enlightening journey to find out.

Contrary to popular belief, the Sun isn't yellow, orange, or red. In fact, it's essentially a blend of all colors, which collectively appear as white to the human eye.

This fact becomes evidently clear when you observe images captured from space. Rainbows, which are essentially sunlight refracted into its constituent colors, provide a fascinating insight into this. Every color in the rainbow, from red to violet, has a unique wavelength, with red having the longest and blue the shortest.

When we observe the Sun during sunrise or sunset, it appears as yellow, orange, or red. This is due to the Earth's atmosphere scattering the Sun's short-wavelength colors (green, blue, violet), much like small waves being spread out by large rocks along the seashore. As a result, only the colors red, yellow, and orange manage to penetrate through the dense atmosphere to reach our eyes.

When the Sun is high in the sky, its shorter waves, particularly blue, collide with air molecules in the upper atmosphere causing them to scatter. This is the reason behind the sky appearing blue.

There's a belief among some people that the scattering of blue light in the Earth's atmosphere is sufficient to give the Sun a slightly yellow appearance. What's your perspective on this?

While some people believe that the Sun's visible light output peaks in the yellow, it's actually the green that holds the peak output position.

So, why do solar images sometimes appear green, blue, red, or orange?

In reality, all forms of light and energy are interconnected and belong to the same family, known as the electromagnetic spectrum. Our human eyes, however, are only capable of perceiving a small segment of this energy, which we refer to as "visible light." Other forms of energy such as radio waves, X-rays, microwaves, and gamma rays have either longer or shorter wavelengths than visible light, but they're essentially the same phenomenon.

There are scientific instruments designed to detect types of light that are beyond our eye's capability. When we want to view these otherwise invisible forms of light, such as X-rays or ultraviolet images, they need to be represented in colors our eyes can recognize. Scientists usually choose striking colors that wouldn't be mistaken for the Sun's natural white light. This allows us to identify images of the Sun in neon green or vivid red as representations of light forms like extreme ultraviolet or X-rays, which we can't naturally see.

The concept that the familiar Sun we live under is actually white can be challenging to accept, even for scientists. As a result, they might sometimes manipulate images of the Sun taken in visible or "white" light to make them resemble what we'd typically expect. For your understanding, we've included an image of the Sun in visible white light, which has been processed by scientists to look orange.

Interestingly, the perceived color of the Sun can also be influenced by cultural factors. For instance, if a young child in the USA is asked to color a picture of the Sun, they'll likely color it yellow. In contrast, a child in Japan would typically color the Sun red!

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