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As the Sun drops near the western horizon, it flips the switch on one of the most colorful performances in all of nature: a sunset.
The Sun itself is muted as its light passes through a thicker layer of Earth's sometimes-murky atmosphere. Dust and other particles absorb blue wavelengths of light, so the Sun turns golden or orange.
As the Sun drops below the horizon, its light is scattered by some of those same particles, creating layers of gold, orange, and red. And as long as there aren't too many of them, clouds can enhance the show, blazing in vivid orange or scarlet as sunlight illuminates their bottoms.
The display can be just as pretty away from the Sun. As the Sun drops farther below the horizon, a band of dark blue creeps up the eastern sky, topped by a layer of bright pink. The blue is Earth's own shadow, which stretches hundreds of thousands of miles into space, while the pink is sunlight bent by the atmosphere.
A couple of bright decorations enhance the show this evening. The gibbous Moon is in the southeast at sunset. The Moon actually spends as much time in the daytime sky as the night sky. It looks washed out in the glare of full daylight, though, and doesn't come into its own until the sky begins to darken. And the first star-like point of light you're likely to see is the brilliant planet Jupiter, shining creamy yellow in the east.
And of course, the view isn't bad after the color of twilight fades, either.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010
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