Lately, sunset has been an event that you don't want to miss here in the Rockford area. The skies have been a stunning palette of purple, gold, orange, and pink. But why now, instead of the colder months which are known to produce more colorful sunrises and sunsets?

If you haven't noticed the skies recently, make it a point to get out there tonight and have a look. It's become a nightly ritual around our house, and judging by the amount of sunset photos posted from the Rockford area that I'm seeing lately on social media, lots of other folks are filling up their phone's memory card with these fantastic sky shows.

Back to the "why is this happening" department.

Okay, so we don't actually have a "why is this happening department," so I went to someone who knows and has answered my weather based questions perfectly in the past. That person is MyStateline.com and 1440 WROK meteorologist Joey Marino.

In addition to being a top-notch meteorologist, Joey Marino is also a noted storm-chaser (follow him on Twitter to see what I mean), and a guy who is passionate about everything involving weather. He's also a super-nice guy who agrees to question-and-answer sessions with me whenever I need him.

Me: Joey, what's going on atmospherically that's causing these sunsets?

Joey Marino: We’ve been seeing some top-tier sunsets here at home over the last few days and it mainly has to do with something we call Rayleigh Scattering, or the rate in which the color spectrum within the sun’s rays are spread throughout the atmosphere. 

Me: The Rayleigh Scattering is something I've never heard of before.

Joey Marino: This process is the reason why the sky is blue during the day and is also behind the beautiful colors we see when the sun is setting. 

Me: So we can still get the striking colors even if the sky is cloudless?

Joey Marino: On a clear day, the colors blue and violet have smaller wavelengths than the other colors of the spectrum, so they scatter at a faster rate.

Me: What happens around sunset?

Joey Marino: When it comes to the pretty colors we see around sunset, the sun is so low on the horizon that the sun’s rays will have pass through more air molecules than they used to during the middle of the day. This gives a better opportunity for air molecules to scatter all the blue and violet light away from our eyes, leaving all the other colors to dominate. This is why sunrises and sunsets can showcase such beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow.

There's the science background, thanks to Joey. Now get out there tonight and take a look at what you may have been missing.

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