Red sky at night...

The Scream

Edvard Munch's The Scream is one of the most famous paintings in Modern art. The blood-red sky has long been seen as a symbol of the fear and anxiety caused by the upheavals of modern life.

Now, a scientist from Texas has uncovered the source of this arresting image. Reviewing old newspaper accounts, Donald Olson determined that sunsets in Europe really were a deep red in late 1883, thanks to excessive dust in the atmophere -- dust that came from the volcanic explosion at Krakatoa, half a world away! Due to dust distorting the light from the sun, unusually colored sunsets were reported from around the world for the next 3 years.

Though Munch did not finish The Scream for another 10 years, art historians know he had been working on it much earlier. And when Olson went to Munch's hometown of Oslo, Norway, he found the exact spot depicted in the painting, and realized it faced southwest -- directly into the setting sun.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Chelsea's picture
Chelsea says:

I heard a saying "Red sky's at night sailors' delight Red sky's in morning sailors' take warning" and i wanted to know if that saying was true because i am doing a science fair project on Red Skys. And i wanted to know if the position of the sun had to do with the red skys. And if so then why?

posted on Thu, 10/06/2005 - 1:13pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

I found an answer to your question in a book called, "Why Moths Hate Thomas Edison and Other Urgent Inquiries into the Odd Nature of Nature," edited by Hampton Sides:

"Variations of this ancient saying turn up in Shakespeare and even in the Gospel of Matthew. Some meteorologists have estimated that the 'night' part of the proverb can be as much as 70 percent accurate in forecasting rain--not bad, as folk wisdom goes, but not good enough to drive the Weather Channel off the air.

There's no consensus on why it works as well as it does, but here's the basic concept: Sunlight comes to us through more miles of atmosphere at dawn and dusk than at other times of day. When the sky is clear, the atmosphere scatters the light at the blue end of the spectrum, leaving mostly red. But if the light passes through larger particles, such as water droplets, you tend to get paler light. A ruddy sky at sunset, then, can indicate that there is little moisture in the upper atmosphere west of you, where tomorrow's weather generally comes from--and thus sunny skies are in the forecast. It might also be a situation, say some meteorologists, in which the setting sun in simply reflecting off the underside of clouds on the eastern horizon, which suggests that rainy weather has already moved beyond you.

The second part of the proverb is the subject of endless speculation among professional meteorologists. More importantly, it isn't the least bit reliable. So when morning comes, sailor, don't even bother looking for red in the sky: you'd do just as well to flip a coin."

posted on Fri, 10/07/2005 - 9:36am
Jami's picture
Jami says:

Speaking of red skies. . .

Matthew 16:1-3
The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?

Isn't it amazing how there truly is nothing new under the sun?

Ecclesiastes 1:9
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

posted on Wed, 08/23/2006 - 6:26am
Dolly-Jean's picture
Dolly-Jean says:

How interesting!

posted on Wed, 03/08/2006 - 12:22pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

some of my friends and i are doing a project on this saying!!

posted on Mon, 09/25/2006 - 2:34pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

why do we get red skys

posted on Sun, 11/18/2007 - 9:12am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

There are a number of possibilities. If there is a lot of dust or other small particles in the air, they may scatter other frequencies of light and just let red light through. (This is what may have happened in the story described above.)

More commonly, as the sun sets its light passes through the atmosphere at a sharper and sharper angle. The air acts like a prism, bending the light waves. Red, having the longest wavelength, bends last, lighting the sky as the sun fades. (If there are clouds in the sky to catch the red light, the effect is even more dramatic.)

posted on Mon, 11/19/2007 - 8:39pm

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