"Why sunsets are red?" Science experiment | Fizzics Education


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Why are sunsets red?

Why are sunsets red?

Follow FizzicsEd 150 Science Experiments:

You will need:

  • One large clear container filled with 5 litres of water
  • 50 mL Milk
  • A strong source of light, eg. spotlight, projector lamp
  • A darkened room


Why are sunsets red science experiment - materials needed
1 Why are sunsets red science experiment - pouring milk into water

Pour about 50 mL of milk into the water. It is often best to use only a little at first, trying the following steps out and only adding more if the intended effect is not apparent.

2 Why are sunsets red science experiment - Raleigh scattering

Turn the spotlight on and darken the room.

3 Why are sunsets red science experiment - light almost too far away from milk _ water

Face the light towards the milky water.

4 Why are sunsets red science experiment - red light emerging from container

The mixture near the torch will look white, yet if you look on the other side of the container, the colour should be a mixture of orange and red. Something has happened to the light as it passed through milk solution!

5 Fluoroscein glowing chemical experiment with UB ligh

What is going on?

The demonstration is a classic way of showing how sunsets work.

White light is comprised of all of the colours of the rainbow i.e. the light spectrum. The different colours you see represent the different wavelengths of light. For example, an orange object is only ‘orange’ when you see the orange wavelength of light being reflected off it.

When light travels through a substance, some of the visible light wavelengths are absorbed whilst the other light is reflected. As the light entered the milk solution, the light in the blue end of the visible spectrum were scattered by the suspended milk solids. This left the lower energy wavelengths of orange and red to pass through the solution, creating the orange/red colour seen in the experiment.

So how does this relate to sunsets?

The daytime sky appears blue because this blue light is scattered more readily towards us, known as Rayleigh scattering. However, during sunset, the blue light is scattered away from our eyes leaving the oranges and reds you see.

So how does this relate to blue icebergs?

  • In an average iceberg, there are large amounts of trapped air bubbles. As air scatters light, passing light through an iceberg scatters all the visible wavelengths of light toward you which makes an iceberg look white.
  • In an iceberg formed underwater, away from the air, will have little to no air bubbles within it. Passing light through such an iceberg will have the weaker red wavelength of light be absorbed by the ice, leaving the more high energy blue light to pass through the iceberg, so you see it as blue.

Variables to test

More about variable testing here

  • Does it matter if you use full cream or light milk?
  • What about soy milk?
  • Does hot or cold water make a difference?
  • Try different coloured lights. What happens then?

Learn more!


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