A NASA planetary scientist developed simulations of the sunset on other planets in the Solar System.
Have you ever wondered what it is like to watch the sunset on another planet? Geronimo Villanueva, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, created a simulation that gives us an idea. While building a modeling tool for a possible future mission to Uranus, Villanueva created simulations of the moment when the sun sets from the point of view of other worlds in our Solar System.
A sunset in Uranus, for example, begins with a strong blue that eventually fades into turquoise. These colors come from the interaction of sunlight with the planet’s atmosphere. When sunlight hits the Uranian atmosphere, hydrogen, helium, and methane absorb the red portion of the light, which has the longest wavelength. Blue and green wavelengths, on the other hand, are shorter and scatter as the photons interact with gas molecules and other particles in the atmosphere.
To validate the accuracy of his tool, Villanueva simulated the colors of the sky seen from other planets, including Venus, Mars, and Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. The result is animations (watch the video below) from the point of view of someone who would be in those places watching the sunset.
According to NASA, as these worlds rotate in the opposite direction to sunlight, the photons scatter in different directions, depending on the energy of the photons and the molecules in each atmosphere. The result is an impressive color palette. On Mars, for example, the sunset changes from brown to blue.
The simulator created by Villanueva will help scientists better understand how light interacts with the atmosphere of exoplanets, moons, and comets, giving a better idea of their atmospheric and surface composition.