NASA videos show what sunsets look like elsewhere in the galaxy

On other planets, blue skies and red sunsets aren't the norm.

NASA videos show what sunsets look like elsewhere in the galaxy
Credits: Geronimo Villanueva/James Tralie/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
  • A NASA scientist created animated simulations of how sunsets likely appear on Mars, Venus, Uranus, and Titan, Saturn's largest moon.
  • Sunsets appear differently on other planets because of differences in the atmosphere, which scatters light in unique ways.
  • Studying alien atmospheres helps scientists better understand atmospheric processes on Earth, and helps narrow the search for habitable planets.

New video simulations from NASA offer a glimpse of what sunsets might look like on other planets.

Created by Geronimo Villanueva, a planetary scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the simulations are part of a computer modeling tool that scientists could someday use to study extraterrestrial atmospheres on probe missions. Villanueva simulated how skies might look as day turns to night on Venus, Mars, Uranus, and Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

"The animations show all-sky views as if you were looking up at the sky through a super wide camera lens from Earth, Venus, Mars, Uranus, and Titan," NASA wrote in a blog post. "The white dot represents the location of the Sun."

The simulations reveal sunsets that look quite different from those on Earth. On Uranus, for example, the sky morphs from a royal blue to a hazy brownish-yellow. Why the difference? The color of the sky on any planet is determined by the unique blend of molecules in the atmosphere. When incoming sunlight passes through the atmosphere, these molecules scatter light in specific ways, causing light of certain wavelengths to appear more visible to the human eye.

"When sunlight — which is made up of all the colors of the rainbow — reaches Uranus's atmosphere, hydrogen, helium and methane absorb the longer-wavelength red portion of the light," NASA wrote. "The shorter-wavelength blue and green portions of light get scattered as photons bounce off the gas molecules and other particles in the atmosphere. A similar phenomenon makes Earth's sky appear blue on a clear day."

So, why do skies change color as day turns to night? During the day, sunlight travels through the atmosphere to our eyes on a relatively short path. But as the sun sets, light must take a longer path through the atmosphere, which provides more opportunities for shorter wavelengths (blue) to be scattered.

An illustration of Rayleigh scattering

An illustration of Rayleigh scattering.

Scientificprotocols via YouTube

The result is a red sunset, produced by an optical phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering.

sunset on Mars

A sunset on Mars. Taken by the Viking 2 Lander on June 14, 1978, this was the first photo of an alien sunset.

NASA

Villanueva's simulations are now featured on NASA's Planetary Spectrum Generator, an online tool for studying the atmospheres and surfaces of distant planets. Studying alien atmospheres not only helps scientists better understand atmospheric processes on Earth, but also gives them a clearer idea of which planets may be habitable — or harbor life already.

How tiny bioelectronic implants may someday replace pharmaceutical drugs

Scientists are using bioelectronic medicine to treat inflammatory diseases, an approach that capitalizes on the ancient "hardwiring" of the nervous system.

Left: The vagus nerve, the body's longest cranial nerve. Right: Vagus nerve stimulation implant by SetPoint Medical.

Credit: Adobe Stock / SetPoint Medical
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Bioelectronic medicine is an emerging field that focuses on manipulating the nervous system to treat diseases.
  • Clinical studies show that using electronic devices to stimulate the vagus nerve is effective at treating inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Although it's not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, vagus nerve stimulation may also prove effective at treating other diseases like cancer, diabetes and depression.
Keep reading Show less

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

U.S. Navy ships

Credit: Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
  • Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
  • While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
Keep reading Show less

Physicist creates AI algorithm that may prove reality is a simulation

A physicist creates an AI algorithm that predicts natural events and may prove the simulation hypothesis.

Pixellated head simulation.

Credit: Adobe Stock
Surprising Science
  • Princeton physicist Hong Qin creates an AI algorithm that can predict planetary orbits.
  • The scientist partially based his work on the hypothesis which believes reality is a simulation.
  • The algorithm is being adapted to predict behavior of plasma and can be used on other natural phenomena.
Keep reading Show less
Photo by AJ Colores on Unsplash
Mind & Brain
Why do some people fight and others flee when confronting violence?
Keep reading Show less
Coronavirus

Eight women at the forefront of the world’s COVID-19 response

Beyond making up 70% of the world's health workers, women researchers have been at the cutting edge of coronavirus research.

Quantcast