LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. – If you live in or visited Southern California during the winter, you have likely caught a beautiful sunset or two. They can be mesmerizing, but what makes them look so beautiful?

A professor from a local university spends his time enjoying sunsets.

“They can be glorious.”

RELATED l Where to Find Colorful Foliage in SoCal

University of California Irvine Professor Charlie Zender says you will find the most glorious SoCal sunsets during the winter.

“The cold temperatures have chilled and cleared out, and dried out the atmosphere, so that light can come all the way from the horizon and not be absorbed by as many moisture droplets or aerosols,” said Zender.

Droplets the size of a quarter of the width of a strand of your hair.

“Imagine a race, starting at the sun equal numbers of all the colors of photons or light rays are emitted by the sun,” said Zender.

Zender says this is what happens at sunset, “Some colors are not as good at running through the atmosphere and they get scattered and removed from the pack of other photons still running towards us. “  

The blues, indigos, and greens scatter in a scientific process called Rayleigh scattering. Then the colors are, “reduced to mores reds, oranges, and yellow photons by the time that light reaches your eyes.”

It is science not smog. Zender debunks an urban legend.

“Smog improves sunsets is a myth,” said Zender.

The professor says a smog sunset would score a zero on a scale of 10. He says a smoggy sunset would, “look more brown if anything.”

Summertime has the best sunsets, right? Zender says, “that’s also NOT based in reality.” He says summer means more moisture in the air.

“That moisture cuts down on how far the light can transit from the horizon,” said Zender.

During the winter, Zender says you have a longer time to get that perfect picture of the sunset. He says during the winter, “The sun is spending more time near the horizon, than in the summer when it drops straight down.”

Also, without “June gloom” blocking our view or the photons, Zender says winter sunsets are indeed glorious.

“Never met a beautiful sunset I didn’t like,” said Zender.

You can see all of Professor Zender’s research here.