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Virtual Highland Lakes: Sunsets

Fifty years ago, when the sun set on this portion of Lake LBJ, it was over ranch country where cattle, wildlife, cedar, oak, mesquite, cactus, and rock reigned supreme. Now known as Horseshoe Bay, the developed community that straddles the border between Burnet and Llano counties is home to world-renowned golf courses, an exclusive country club, condos, townhomes, mansions, and palm trees. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

Glorious sunsets are a common sight in an uncommon community, whether you're viewing them from the hills surrounding the Highland Lakes in Central Texas, the porch of a lakeside home, or a boat skimming across the water. Sunset colors of red and orange paint fire in the sky as the sun dips below the horizon, a trick of the eye, really. Earth’s home star is not moving and the colors our eyes perceive are only a small portion of the electromagnetic radiation traveling through the atmosphere on its way to our retinas.

Much of the wide spectrum of wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation from the sun is absorbed and filtered before it gets to you, said Stephen Corfidi, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist in a National Geographic interview.

Here’s how it happens, according to Corfidi:

The two main molecules in the air are oxygen and nitrogen. When a beam of sunlight strikes those molecules, the wavelengths scatter in different directions, millions and millions of times as they make their way to your field of vision.

Because these molecules are so much smaller than the wavelengths, they tend to scatter the shortest ones: the blues and purples, which is why the daytime sky is blue. The human eye peaks in the middle, or green part, of the spectrum — closer to the blues — which is why we see the sky that way. Creatures with a different peak, closer to the indigo end of the spectrum, see the sky as purple.

As one side of Earth rotates away from the sun, the wavelengths of light have to travel much farther through the atmosphere to get to you, scattering the blue before you can see it. That leaves oranges and reds, which are enhanced by clear air rather than pollution and dust, as commonly believed.

The larger particles of pollution tend to muddy the atmosphere, muting the colors. The best sunsets happen in the fall and winter because the air is dryer and cleaner.

The best sunsets also happen in the Highland Lakes, away from the noise and fuss of the city, just 40 miles away, over the hills. Contemplating a beautiful sunset over a pristine lake can be a great way to relax and think about how you want to spend the next day vacationing in the Highland Lakes. So don’t let the sun set on you without checking out 101 Fun Things to do in the Highland Lakes.

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