What Color is the Sun?

The scattering of wavelength colors by the Earth's atmosphere changes the appearance of the Sun.
The scattering of wavelength colors by the Earth's atmosphere changes the appearance of the Sun.

We may not have stopped to ask ourselves what the actual color of the Sun is, we will be surprised to know that it is white. We can attribute the fact that the Sun looks yellow to us due to the Earth’s atmosphere which scatters away light in the blue, indigo and violet low wavelength region. On the other hand, the Earth’s atmosphere scatters higher wavelength colors such as yellow, orange and red with less ease. These remaining wavelengths which have not been scattered by the Earth’s atmosphere are what we see. In this respect, when we see them with our naked eye the Sun looks yellow to us, but that is a misconception.

Perception Versus Reality

Although we have linked the colors yellow, orange, and red with that of the Sun, when viewed through outer space, the Sun is a brilliant white. This is due to the fact that when viewed from space, the light emitted from the Sun is not scattered by Earth’s atmosphere.

The light that is emitted by the Sun is actually white which consists of all the possible visible light frequencies. When we make use of a prism, sunlight can be broken down into all colors of the rainbow which are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Each color of the rainbow has a different wavelength, with red light possessing the highest wavelength and blue having the lowest of this.

The Earth’s atmosphere is also the cause of the sky appearing blue during the day rather than black at night. In the event that the Sun is high in the sky, the shorter waves, that is, the blue, strike air molecules in the upper atmosphere, bounce and scatter therefore giving the sky its blue appearance between sunrise and sunset.

Proximity of the Sun to the Earth's Horizon

When the Sun is in close proximity to the Earth’s horizon, more of the blue light is scattered away by the Earth’s atmosphere. This is what gives the Sun its reddish appearance at sunrise and sunset causing the entire sky to look reddish at these given points in time in a day. This is only due to its short-wavelength colors of green, blue and violet being scattered by the Earth's atmosphere. We have become accustomed to the idea that the color of the Sun is yellow and even astronomers will reinforce this misconception in their reports by coloring the Sun yellow which is, as a matter of fact white in color.


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