Sunset in a Bottle

by Deb on January 28, 2011


I know I’ve put some spectacular sunset shots up, here’s another one for you.  Since I’m enjoying them so much today I thought I’d show you how to make a sunset in a bottle.  It won’t be quite as glorious, but there’s something special about making it yourself and it’s incredibly easy.


  • Large clear bottle bottle
  • Water
  • Milk
  • Torch


  1. Almost fill the bottle with water, then add about a tablespoon of milk.  If you add too much the torch won’t shine through it, just tip it out and top up with water until it works.
  2. Stand the bottle up and shine the torch through it, look directly at the torch.
  3. Keep shining the torch and slowly tilt the bottle towards you.

We set the torch up on a block to keep it still and knelt in front of the table so we could see it.

What’s happening?

Go away and do it and then you can describe it to me.

Done?  It’s really cool, isn’t it!

You do realise that looking at my photos without doing it is cheating.  It’s like flipping through to the end of the book to see how it ends.  But if you insist …

torchThis is the torch we used.  It’s a super duper new LED torch with a bright white light.

This is the first view looking straight through the bottle and is the equivalent of the sun at midday:


This is a pretty good model of the atmosphere, the milk represents the dust and gases that scatter and bounce the light around.  That lovely white light has been bent and split into the different colours that make it up, just like in a rainbow.  The blue is scattered the most, producing the blue sky, while the yellow and reds don’t scatter as much so the sun looks orange.

And here is the sunset:


The blue is paler and the sun more orange, dimmer and larger.  (You can measure it, I kept the scale the same in the photos.)  If we could just manage some clouds you would see the orange bouncing off them too.

So what’s happening?

This diagram explains it – Sunset Diagram

You can see that at noon the distance through the atmosphere is the shortest so a relatively small amount of dust scatters the light.  This is the torch shining straight through the bottle.  At sunset the light has to travel much further through atmosphere, like when you tilt the bottle forward and the torch shines long ways instead of straight across.  It is scattered by much more gas and dust, so you see more of the red end of the colour spectrum.  More scattering is also what makes it look bigger, as it bends the light spreads out like a cone.

So there you have it, your own sunset in a bottle.  Incredibly simple and fun and can be done as many times as you want.  Off you go.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Shailender @ Romantic Getaways January 29, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Yup It’s really cool, The best thing is that you can see the sun by your eyes which is not possible when you look directly. 😉
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