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Composition of the Atmosphere

Nitrogen and oxygen are the major gases in the atmosphere; the minor gases include carbon dioxide.

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Practice Composition of the Atmosphere
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Smoggy Sunsets
Teacher Contributed

Smoggy Sunsets

Why It Matters

Is smog to thank for spectacular sunsets?

It is a common belief that increasing the air pollution of a region, while detrimental to our health and environment in many different capacities, will increase the beauty of a sunset. Is this accurate? What are the optimum conditions for a sunset that contains a rainbow of colors? Check it out: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fact-or-fiction-smog-creates-beautiful-sunsets&page=2

Explore More

  1. Based on the Scientific American article mentioned above and this paper by NOAA’s scientist Stephen F. Corfidi (http://www.spc.noaa.gov/publications/corfidi/sunset/), now what do you think? Make a list of factors that affect the colors presented in a sunset (i.e. composition of the atmosphere, density of particles, clouds, etc.). Does smog make the most spectacular sunsets?
  2. People repeatedly report green skies right before a thunderstorm or tornado (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fact-or-fiction-if-sky-is-green-run-for-cover-tornado-is-coming). What do you think this could be attributed to? How is this similar to colors seen during a sunset?
  3. Martian sunsets are blue! Check it out: http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blogland/2012/apr/30/krulwich-wonders-most-peculiar-sunset/ Why are they blue? What color do you think sunsets on other planets are? Pick a planet in our solar system, research the atmospheric conditions, predict the sunset color, and provide evidence in support.

Resources Cited

Scientific American. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fact-or-fiction-smog-creates-beautiful-sunsets&page=2


NOAA. http://www.spc.noaa.gov/publications/corfidi/sunset/

RadioLab. http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blogland/2012/apr/30/krulwich-wonders-most-peculiar-sunset/

L.C. Nøttaasen. Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/magnera/3738093833/

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