Why Did The Sky Turn Orange?

September 11, 2020

Quick, is that a photo of Mars or Earth? If you said Earth, you probably live in Northern California, or you’re tracking the news. Residents in the San Francisco Bay Area woke up to orange skies that progressively turned darker during the day. While streetlights remained on throughout the day, the question on everyone’s mind was, “What on Earth is making the sky so orange without a sunrise or a sunset?”

Wildfires on the west coast of the United States have been a growing phenomenon throughout the summer and spread to Oregon more recently. Smoke from these wildfires can travel far, blowing into fire-free areas hundreds of miles away. So, we have smoke that blows high above the air in the region. And we have layers of clouds. This combination causes interesting events to occur. For one, the smoke particles play an important role in turning the sky orange.

As the sun rises, the smoke particles filter out the blue light, allowing only the yellow, orange, and red light to come through to the land. This means the only colors you see around you are yellow, orange, and red! Two things need to happen for the eerie orange glow to go away—either a strong sea breeze to blow out the smoke and clouds, or the fires need to recede, so there are fewer smoke particles in the air.

Take a look at some of the photos that Xyza readers sent us!

Zain B., 13 years old

Photo Courtesy of Zain B.

Beckett L.M., 14 years old

A meme created by 14-year-old Beckett L.M.
Photo Courtesy of Beckett L.M.

Violet H., 9 years old

Photo Courtesy of Violet H.

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