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Why the Sky Is Blue:
Discovering the Color of Life
Gotz Hoeppe
Translated by John Stewart

Winner of the 2010 Louis J. Battan Author's Award, American Meteorological Society
Honorable Mention for the 2007 Atmospheric Science Librarians International Choice Award, Historical Category

Hardcover | 2007 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691124537
352 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 27 color plates. 35 halftones. 76 line illus. 9 tables.
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Why is the sky blue?

Parents don't know what to say when their children ask.

Why the Sky Is Blue answers this ancient and surprisingly complex question in a more entertaining and accessible way than ever before. Götz Hoeppe takes the reader on a historical and scientific journey to show the various ways people in different times and places have explained why the sky looks blue. The richly illustrated story begins with ancient myths and philosophy and ends with the cutting-edge science of optics, statistical physics, and ozone depletion. Most importantly, it is the story of how scientists discovered that the sky's blue depends on life on Earth and the makeup of our planet's ozone layer. Without microbial life's impact on the composition of the atmosphere, the clear daytime sky would probably lack its distinctive color. And without the ozone, the twilight sky's color would also be very different--not the sapphire tone of l'heure bleue, but rather a yellowish or greenish hue.

Why the Sky Is Blue shows that skylight can be viewed from a surprising variety of vantage points. We learn how our physiology and cognitive capacities govern our perception of the sky's color. And we discover why this everyday experience has been such a source of fascination and controversy over the centuries.

Delightful and intriguing, Why the Sky Is Blue shows how the attempt to answer this age-old and deceptively simple question only enhances the magic of the blue sky we see above us.


"As Götz Hoeppe's excellent history of our attempts to explain the blue of the sky shows, from moments of wonder...scientific theories grow...A thorough and detailed history."--P. D. Smith, Times Literary Supplement

Praise for the original German edition: "Hoeppe has succeeded in something completely special: the book combines the research of the natural sciences with philosophical and cultural reflections--all elegantly expressed."--Saarländischer Rundfunk

"Delivering far more than the title promises, Hoeppe's book describes an intellectual quest that began with the ancients. He details our growing understanding of the sky's light, and the insights and experiments that brought it about. . . . A well-illustrated, rewarding read."--Jon Richfield, New Scientist

"Hoeppe offers accessible insights into a question that extends well beyond the realm of science."--Deutsche-Welle

"This book could as easily have been titled 'Is the Sky Blue?' And the answer to that is yes and no.... One of the interesting things about Why the Sky is Blue is that as a German, Hoeppe spreads credit for the development of physics farther east than most popular scientific histories in English do. He also presents a number of phenomena that readers can try out in their backyards."--Harry Eagar, Maui News

"Sure we all know it's blue, and most of us know why. Or, at least we think we know why. This book shows that our sky comes in as many shades of blue as a painter has in their palette. But each shade has a natural explanation, hence the size and value of this enlightening book. Hoeppe's book works through humanity's understanding of the phenomenon of the blue sky by advancing chronologically....[The] attention to detail, the thoroughness of his review and the vibrant style of writing (even though a translation) make this book worthwhile reading."--Mark Mortimer, Universe Today

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Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations ix
List of Tables xvii
Acknowledgments xix
Prologue: Looking at the Sky 1
Chapter 1: Of Philosophers and the Color Blue 9
Chapter 2: A Blue Mixture: Light and Darkness 31
Chapter 3: Aerial Perspective 52
Chapter 4: A Color of the First Order 77
Chapter 5: Basic Phenomenon, or Optical Illusion? 108
Chapter 6: A Polarized Sky 131
Chapter 7: Lord Rayleigh's Scattering 169
Chapter 8: Molecular Reality 203
Chapter 9: Ozone's Blue Hour 235
Chapter 10: The Color of Life 261
Epilogue 289
Appendix A: Determining the Height of the Atmosphere from the Duration of Twilight 291
Appendix B: Blue Eyes as Turbid Media 293
Appendix C: A Simple Derivation of the Inverse Fourth Power Law 295
Appendix D: Atmospheric Extinction and Avogadro's Number 297
Notes 299
Further Reading 311
Index 325

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