Unknown (age 7) asked – “Why is the sky blue?”

Hello unknown. I would not normally answer questions to an unknown questioner, but, as it it such an interesting question I asked my friends for some comments.

You are right. Where does the colour come from? It was in 1671 that the famous scientist, Newton, discovered that white light was a mixture of different coloured lights. He did this by passing white light (the light from the Sun) through a glass prism. Look at what he got……….

Later it was found that some of the blue light in the Sun’s light had difficulty passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. this blue light was scattered as it passed through the atmosphere therefore giving the sky a blue colour.

Some of the blue light still got through and appears as part of the white light in the prism experiment and also in the rainbow. In the rainbow the drops of rainwater act as small prisms.

Hope this makes sense. if you want to give your name please let me know in the comment box.

(amended 21/9/18 – raindrops as prisms added)

“Why does the sky go green when it hails?” asks Swifty (11)

What a question? Thanks  team for your thoughts. To me it seems to be a unique mixing of the colours from our sunlight. We know that the blue sky is because of the blue part of the spectrum of colour that comes from the white light from the Sun.

Some of the blue part of that spectrum of light is scattered when it hits the molecules of Oxygen and Nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere. So blue coloured light illuminates the daytime sky. We know that when we see a sunset we can see a red sky in the distance and that is because we are looking at the Sun through a lot more atmosphere than we would do in a normal day. This is the dust that is in the atmosphere. In the experiment the milk acts as a ‘dust’ in the water.

I attach a NASA video that explains this then I will tell you my ideas about a green sky.

My thinking, and that of some others, is that the green sky is linked to the storm clouds (the background image above, was a pause in the hailstorm that the cyclists were experiencing). These were preventing some of the sunlight reaching the viewer who saw a yellow light mixed with the blue sunlight. the mixture of these lights could have caused the green light (a cyano type of light, like that below).

Very happy to hear comments and questions. Remember science development is about admitting your ignorance and my thoughts above are just thoughts. You and I need to do some further investigations.

Revised 10/1/18 to include experiment and colour example.

Keith (13) asked a question about thermal papers in cash machines.

Keith’s question
More and more places are using thermal paper as a form of receipt paper for customers. With time the information fades. How can one scientifically go about recovering information which may have faded from thermal paper.

Keith, many thanks for the question. I never realised that thermal(heat sensitive) paper was used in so many places and that it is also the basis on which the polaroid camera worked.

Thermal paper is made using a collection of dyes which exist as colourless crystals that become coloured when they interact with an acid.


For those who enjoy their chemistry you might have come across adding a dye called phenolphthalein to an acid solution. The dye changes from colourless to a deep purple.

The applied heat (from the cash register machine) melts a layer in the paper which contains acid crystals. The liquid acid then interacts with the layer below it which contains a colourless crystalline dye which changes colour as the acid interacts with it.  The print then shows. The acid quickly becomes crystalline again.

Over time the print does begin to disappear.

A little investigation.

Obtain an old till receipt which your adults do not want to save. Put it onto an ironing board and with a hot (care) iron, iron it.

Stop

To make it more scientific predict what you think might happen before you carry out the experiment. Any ideas, if so you have a hypothesis.  Now find a very old (fading) receipt and using a hair drier blow warm air onto the BACK of the receipt. Again predict.

I think I’ll stop there. Many thanks for the question Keith. Please comment or ask another question.

Soham (10) ask “Why is the sky blue”

Soham, I have tried with my friends to answer this question previously. Have a look at my a previous answer.

Think about it and if there is something that you are unsure of ask another question. Sometimes other questions help. They  help all of us to understand some of the strange aspects of our lives.

Soham(10) asks – “Why do Chameleons change their colour and how ?”

chameleon

Thanks team, some good answers. On most occasions it is suggested that a Chameleon changes colour for defensive purposes.  It seems that they can do this by changing the tension in their skin. Not something that we can do very easily. For the Chameleon, part of the skin is a compound that can be stretched and it is this compound that changes the light colours that are absorbed by the skin and those that are reflected. Thus the colour change.

Reflection of light of things depends on the material and the light that is falling on it. Suppose green light was shone on a red object in a dark room. Would you see it? Sometimes you can also notice that changing the temperature of a material changes the way it reflects light. Running a hot iron over a red material changes the ‘redness’ of the material because of the effect of the heat on the compound that the red dye is made of. Some experiments that you might try (with the help of an adult).