Here's What Color The Sun Actually Is

Consider the following question: what color is the sun? The obvious answer would be to say "That's easy, it's..." before staring into the sky, screaming in pain, and accidentally blinding yourself permanently without ever coming up with an answer. Barring that, one might turn to popular culture or common wisdom: as all children and boxes of Raisin Bran know, the sun is yellow and cares deeply about the amount of dried grapes that you get with your breakfast. But this, too, is a flawed approach which will lead you to an erroneous outcome. In terrible news for Superman fans and realist preschool finger painters, the sun is not, it turns out, yellow.

What your damaged corneas and cartoons won't tell you is that the sun is, in fact, a brilliant combination of every color on the visible spectrum. This mishmash, as anyone who remembers their classic Bill Nye can tell you, results in white light.

So why do sunrises and sunsets often look yellow, orange, or red? There are a couple of factors. According to Stanford, when light from the sun enters our atmosphere at a steep angle, colors with shorter wavelengths like blue and green are scattered, while warm colors with long wavelengths push through, leaving them visible to the human eye. The dispersal of light with a shorter wavelength, by the way, is also what makes the sky appear blue.

So how can we deduce that the sun is white if we can't look directly at it? Stanford also recommends a couple of experiments. Consider, for example, what color the clouds appear to be when directly illuminated by sunlight. What color shows up when you look at the sun through a pinhole camera? And if that's not enough for you, do what the rest of us do and remember that people smarter than us have been pointing scientific equipment at space for centuries and doing our thinking for us.