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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Crepuscular rays of light shining through clouds near the Washington Monument in Washington D.C.

The sky is the part of the atmosphere or of outer space visible from the surface of any astronomical object. It is difficult to define precisely for several reasons. During daylight, the sky of Earth has the appearance of a deep blue surface because of the air's scattering of sunlight.[1][2][3][4] The sky is sometimes defined as the denser gaseous zone of a planet's atmosphere. At night the sky has the appearance of a black surface or region scattered with stars.

During the day the Sun can be seen in the sky, unless covered by clouds. In the night sky (and to some extent during the day) the moon, planets and stars are visible in the sky. Some of the natural phenomena seen in the sky are clouds, rainbows, and aurorae. Lightning and precipitation can also be seen in the sky during storms. On Earth, birds, insects, aircraft, and kites are often considered to fly in the sky. As a result of human activities, smog during the day and light radiance during the night are often seen above large cities (see also light pollution).

In the field of astronomy, the sky is also called the celestial sphere. This is an imaginary dome where the sun, stars, planets, and the moon are seen to be traveling. The celestial sphere is divided into regions called constellations.

See skies of other planets for descriptions of the skies of various planets and moons in the solar system.


Sky luminance and colors

Clouds made orange by a sunset
When seen from altitude, as here from an airplane, the sky's color varies from pale to dark at elevations approaching the zenith

Light from the sky is a result of the scattering of sunlight, which results in a blue color perceived by the human eye. On a sunny day Rayleigh scattering gives the sky a blue gradient — dark in the zenith, light near the horizon. Light that comes in from overhead encounters 1/38th of the air mass that light coming along a horizon path encounters. So, fewer particles scatter the zenith sunbeam, and therefore the light remains a darker blue.[5] The blueness is at the horizon because the blue light coming from great distances is also preferentially scattered. This results in a red shift of the far lightsources that is compensated by the blue hue of the scattered light in the line of sight. In other words some of the red light scatters also and if it does at a point at a great distance from the observer it has a much higher chance of reaching the observer than blue light. At distances nearing infinity the scattered light is therefore white. Far away clouds or snowy mountaintops will seem yellow for that reason; that effect is not obvious on clear days, but very pronounced when clouds are covering the line of sight reducing the blue hue from scattered sunlight. This can be observed at the bottom part of the picture on top of the article.

Another thing worth mentioning is that the scattering due to very small particles (molecule sized) is almost random. The scattering in a 90 degree angle is still half of the scattering that reflects or goes forward. This causes the blue sky to be almost evenly colored and thin clouds to form a white area around the sun, because the big particles the clouds are made of are scattering preferentially only at low angles. The color of the clouds is also due to scattering and a cloud at a small distance has the white color because all the light from these clouds is scattered multiple times in the mass of particles and no wavelenght effects will be observed.

The sky can turn a multitude of colors such as red, orange, purple and yellow (especially near sunset or sunrise) and black at night. Scattering effects also partially polarize light from the sky, most pronounced at an angle 90° from the sun.

Sky luminance distribution models have been recommended by the International Commission on Illumination (CIE) for the design of daylighting schemes. Recent developments relate to “all sky models” for modelling sky luminance under weather conditions ranging from clear sky to overcast.[6]


Skies o'er us
Turbulent skies  
The sky's zenith appears centered in this daytime photograph taken looking up though trees  
Sunset at Knysna (Western Cape, South Africa)  
Early sunset view from a plane  

See also


  1. ^ Tyndall, John (December 1868). "On the Blue Colour of the Sky, the Polarization of Skylight, and on the Polarization of Light by Cloudy Matter Generally". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 17: pp. 223–233. doi:10.1098/rspl.1868.0033. 
  2. ^ Rayleigh, Lord (June 1871). "On the scattering of light by small particles". Philosophical Magazine 41, 275: pp. 447–451. 
  3. ^ Watson, JG (June 2002). "Visibility: Science and Regulation". J. Air & Waste Manage. Assoc 52: pp. 628–713. Retrieved 2007-04-19. 
  4. ^ Why is the sky Blue?
  5. ^ Why is the sky bluer on top than at the horizon
  6. ^ eSim 2008 (May 20th - 22nd, 2008) General Sky Standard Defining Luminance Distributions

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

And over all the sky — the sky! far, far out of reach,
studded, breaking out, the eternal stars.

The Sky is the portion of outer space or the atmosphere visible from a position within a world.


  • Our bugles sang truce, for the night-cloud had lower'd,
    And the sentinel stars set their watch in the sky.
  • I talk to God, but the sky is empty.
  • And over all the sky — the sky! far, far out of reach,
    studded, breaking out, the eternal stars.

External links

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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Simple English

[[File:|thumb|the daytime sky with trees]]

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The sky is what we call the appearance of a hemisphere over our heads. On a clear day it appears blue. The deepness of the blue increases as we move from the horizon to the point above our head.

The sky, which is made up of gas molecules, is blue because of the random scattering of sunlight by the molecules. Rayleigh scattering defines the amount of scattering of light rays. Since all colors of the rainbow create a white light we should see a white sky, but blue light scatters much more than red. That is why the sky appears blue (on a cloudless day).

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