Why the sky turns purple & pink in Tampa

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TAMPA (WFLA) – On Wednesday evening, we saw slow-moving downpours drifting across our area. As we approached sunset, some areas saw a pink and purple hued sky. Here’s why!

It starts with light and the light spectrum. The visible light spectrum that we see is actually a combination of rainbow colors. When that spectrum of light is bent or manipulated, it can spread out the spectrum to display the individual colors within the spectrum.

The most familiar example of this occurring is a rainbow. Rainbows occur when sunlight passes through a shower, the light enters the water droplets and is bent, or spread out by passing through the water. The spread-out rays of light will then be on display on the other side of the water droplets, displaying the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet components of the light spectrum. 

The light spectrum colors are always in the same position, red is the longest wavelength within the spectrum, blue is the shortest. 

Typical sunsets are more colorful than when the sun is higher in the sky because the rays of light from the sunshine are passing through more atmosphere, which contains moisture when it is at a low angle at sunset. The additional atmosphere and moisture spread the visible light spectrum out and we see the red, orange, and yellow wavelengths. 

Our normal sky looks blue because the shorter wavelengths on the spectrum, the blue, hit air particles and molecules and bounce around, spreading out and becoming visible as they do so. 

So why did our sky turn purple during the early evening? Moisture. So much moisture.

As the sunset at the low angle, the waves of light were passing through significant moisture, from the rain in the slow-moving downpours. The spectrum of light was spread so the violet wavelengths filtered through all of the moisture and turned our skies to purple. 

The scientific term for the light spectrum being spread out is called Rayliegh scattering. It is defined as the scattering of electromagnetic radiation (the ray of light) by a particle (moisture in this case,) much smaller than the radiation. 

The result was a beautiful, violet sky at sunset as Southwestern Florida enjoyed the tail end of the light spectrum Rayliegh scattered all over our skies.

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