Q:

Why does the moon turn orange?

A:

Quick Answer

Dust, smoke and pollution particles diffuse moonlight through the atmosphere to make it appear orange, red or yellow as the heavenly object rises or sets above the horizon. The atmosphere is thicker when viewing objects along the horizon rather than overhead, which also makes objects appear redder and larger. NASA calls this a moon illusion because the moon never actually changes color.

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Full Answer

When sunlight deflects off the moon and hits the Earth, particles in the atmosphere scatter light on the blue end of the rainbow spectrum. Redder light passes through the atmosphere, giving the moon an orange or reddish appearance close to the horizon. As the full moon is high above close to midnight, it seems to be white and smaller. When seen from outer space, the moon doesn't change color due to atmospheric conditions.

Another theory as to why the moon seems orange is because of light's convergence at the back of the human eye. Trees and houses in front of a rising or setting moon give the object an appearance of being larger. The concept is known as a Ponzo illusion in which train tracks seem to come to a point far in the distance. Another illusion to human perception is that the sky appears flat, when in reality, it is spherical.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    Why is the moon orange?

    A:

    The moon appears orange when the sunlight it reflects passes through a thicker portion of the Earth's atmosphere. Generally, the moon only appears orange when it is close to the horizon.

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  • Q:

    Why does the moon look orange?

    A:

    Any time the moon appears orange in the sky, it's because of light diffusion and refraction in the atmosphere. When the moon is low in the sky, the blue light reflected from its surface is scattered in the dense atmosphere, giving the moon a reddish-orange cast.

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  • Q:

    What is the meaning of a red moon?

    A:

    Scientifically speaking, there are three meanings for a red moon: that there is a lunar eclipse, that the moon is near the horizon and the light is passing through a larger amount of atmosphere or that particles in the air (from events like a forest fire or a volcanic eruption) are partially obscuring the light. Any of these conditions cause the light from the moon to be partially scattered, eliminating the blue and green parts of the visible light spectrum so that only red light filters through.

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  • Q:

    Does the moon have an atmosphere?

    A:

    According to NASA, the moon does have an atmosphere. Although the moon’s atmosphere is minimal in comparison to Earth’s – less than 1 million molecules in 1 cubic centimeter of moon air versus 10 quintillion molecules in 1 cubic centimeter of Earth air – it's still measurable.

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