Light in the Air Essay

Submitted By ilysniallhoran
Words: 559
Pages: 3

Light travels through space in a straight line as long as nothing disturbs it. As light moves through the atmosphere, it continues to go straight until it bumps into a bit of dust or a gas molecule. Then what happens to the light depends on its wavelength and the size of the thing it hits.
Dust particles and water droplets are much larger than the wavelength of visible light. When light hits these large particles, it gets reflected, or bounced off, in different directions. The different colours of light are all reflected by the particle in the same way. The reflected light appears white because it still contains all of the same colours.
Gas molecules are smaller than the wavelength of visible light. If light bumps into them, it acts differently. When light hits a gas molecule, some of it may get absorbed. After a while, the molecule radiates (releases, or gives off) the light in a different direction. The colour that is radiated is the same colour that was absorbed. The different colours of light are affected differently. All of the colours can be absorbed. But the higher frequencies (blues) are absorbed more often than the lower frequencies (reds). This process is called Rayleigh scattering. (It is named after Lord John Rayleigh, an English physicist, who first described it in the 1870's.)
Students to copy notes in blue box
The blue colour of the sky is due to Rayleigh scattering. As light moves through the atmosphere, most of the longer wavelengths pass straight through. Little of the red, orange and yellow light is affected by the air.
However, much of the shorter wavelength light is absorbed by the gas molecules. The absorbed blue light is then radiated in different directions. It gets scattered all around the sky. Whichever direction you look, some of this scattered blue light reaches you. Since you see the blue light from everywhere overhead, the sky looks blue.

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As you look…