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Why The Sky is Blue

Why The Sky is Blue

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Published by Kailash Aher
This combination accounts for the pale sky blue colour. It may not be a coincidence that our vision is adjusted to see the sky as a pure hue.
This combination accounts for the pale sky blue colour. It may not be a coincidence that our vision is adjusted to see the sky as a pure hue.

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Kailash Aher on Apr 02, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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04/02/2011

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WHYTHESKYISBLUE*
WhenIwasaskedtochooseascientificsubjectformylectureIhadnodifficultyatallinchoosingthesubjectof"Whytheskyisblue."Fortunately,naturehasbeenkindtoday;asIlookupandsee,theskyisblue;noteverywhere,astherearemanyclouds.Ichosethissubjectforthesimplereasonthatthisisanexampleofsomethingyoudonothavetogotothelaboratorytosee.Justlookup,lookatthesky.AndIthinkitisalsoanexampleofthespiritofscience.Youlearnsciencebykeepingyoureyesandearsopenandlookingaroundatthisworld.Therealinspirationofscience,atleasttome,hasbeenessentiallytheloveofnature.Really,inthisworld,whereverwesee,weseeallkindofmiracleshappeninginnature.Tome,everythingIseeissomethingincrediblesomethingabsolutelyincredible.Wetakeitallforgranted.ButIthinktheessenceofthescientificspiritistolookbehindandbeyondandtorealisewhatawonderfulworld
it
isthatwelivein.Andeverythingthatweseepresentstousnotasubjectforcuriosity,butachallenge,achallengetothespiritofmantotrytounderstandsomethingofthisvastmysterythatsurroundsus.Sciencecontinuallyattemptstomeetthischallengetothespiritofman.Andthegreatproblemtoday,whichDr.Sarabhai
Prof
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V.
Raman
s
lecturedeliveredonDecember
22,
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attheFoundationStone-layingceremonyoftheCommunityScienceCentre,Ahmedabad.
 
hasaddressedhimselfto,ishowtorousetheyoungergenerationofourcountrytomeetthisgreatchallengebeforeus,onceagaintobuildupIndiaintoagreatcentreofknowledgeandlearningandendeavour.Well,Iwishyouallsuccess.Nowletmetumbacktomyproblem"Whytheskyisblue."Iraisedthisquestionbecauseitisaneasysubject.Ionlyhavetolookupandseethattheskyisblue.Butwhyisitblue?Theinterestingpointisthatitiseasytoanswerthatquestioninacasualway.IfyouaskaBotanist,whyareleavesgreen?Hemurmurs,'Chlorophyll'.Finished.Yousee,allscientificquestionscanbedisposedofinthatsummaryfashion,inoneortwowords.Youcansurelypassyourexaminationswiththatkindofanswer,butthatisnottherealanswer.AsIsaidbefore,thescientificchallengeofnatureistothink,notonlytodiscoverbuttothink,tothinkcontinuallyandtotrytopenetratethismystery:"Whyisitblue?"Thatisaveryinterestingproblem,becausetwothingsarethere.TheskyisthereandIamhere.Iseeitisblue.Itisthehumanbrainandthehumanmindaswellthatareinvolvedinthisproblem.Nowsupposeweputthisproblembeforetheyoungpeople.Don'treadanybookaboutit,don'taskyourteacher.Letussitdownandtrytothinkoutthisproblem:whyistheskyblue.Lookatitasifitisacompletelynewscientificproblemaboutwhichnobodyhastroubledhimselfbefore.Yousitdownandthinkitoutandyouwillfinditamostexcitingthingtoaskyourselfthatquestionandseeifyoucandiscovertheanswerforyourself.NowIwillputittoyouinthisway.Thebestwaytoansweraquestionistoaskanother.Atnight,weallseethestars.Onafairlyclearnightyouseethestarstwinklinginthesky.Whyarethestarsnotvisibleindaytime?Pleaseaskyourselfthismodestquestion.Well,thereasonobviouslyisthattheearth,asalady,hashiddenherselfunderaveil.Theskyisaveilwhichshehasthrownaroundus.Wecannotseethestarsduringtheday,becausethe'.veilhidesthestars.Andwhatisthisveil?Theveilobviously,istheatmosphereoftheearth.Thesameveilwhichatnightissotransparentthatwecanseethefainteststarandthemilky
2
 
way,iscoveredupinday-time.Obviously,itistheatmospherewhichistheveil.Andweseetheskyasblueonlybecausewehavenotgototherthickerveilsliketheseclouds.Youseeforexample,thosecloudshighinthebluesky.Obviouslytherefore,fortheskytobereallyblue,theremustbenothingelse,nocloudsandperhapsnodust.Theclearertheskyis,theblueritis.Sotheskyisnotalwaysblue;itissometimesblueandsometimesnotblueatall.Sothatthemerelookingattheskyenablesustounderstandtheconditionoftheatmosphere.Letmesayonethingmore.Obviously,theskyandtheatmospherearelitupbythesunlight.Sunlightispassingthroughthisgreatcolumnofairandobviouslyitistheatmosphere,somethingthatistransparentandinvisibleatnight,thatisseentousbythelight-sunlight-passingthroughtheatmosphere.NowIwantyoutoaskyourselfanotherquestion.Idon'tknowifanyofyouhavehadthecuriositytolookattheclearskyonafull-moonnight.Youknowthatmoonlightisonlythesunlightincidentonthemoonandisdiffusedorreflected.Idon'tknowifanyofyouhavereallywatchedtheskyonaclearfull-moonnight.Youwillbeastonishedtofindthattheskyisnotblue.
It
appearspale,youjustseesomelightandyouseesomeofthestarsevenunderthefull-moonsky,buttheskyisnotblue.Whyisitthattheskywhichappearsblueinsunlight,doesnotappearblueinmoonlight?Theanswerobviouslyis:theilluminationisfarlesspowerful.Youdon'trequiretobemuchofamathematiciantocalculatetheratiooftheintensitiesoffull-moonlightandsunlight.Ipresentittosomeyoungmathematiciantositdownandworkout.Howbigisthemoon?Whatshouldbethebrightnessofmoonlight?Itisalittleastronomicalproblem.Rougharithmeticwouldtellyouthatmoonlightissomethinglikehalfamillionthpartasbrightassunlight;youwouldthink,itisterriblysmall.Butmoonlight,whenitisthereseemsverybrightthoughitisonlyhalfamillionthpartofthebrightnessofsunlight.Whydoesitlooksobright?Well,theeyeshavegotaccustomedtomuchlowerlevelsofillumination.Somoonlightappearsverybrightbut
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