The physical conditions of the refracting medium (air) are not stationary, the apparent position of the object, as seen through the hot air, fluctuates. This wavering is thus an effect of atmospheric refraction (refraction of light by the earth’s atmosphere) on a small scale in our local environment.

Twinkling of stars:

The twinkling of a star is due to atmospheric refraction of starlight. The starlight, on entering the earth’s atmosphere, undergoes refraction continuously before it reaches the earth.

The atmosphere bends starlight towards the normal, the apparent position of the star is slightly different from its actual position. The star appears slightly higher (above) than its actual position when viewed near the horizon .the apparent position of the star is not stationary, but keeps on changing slightly,

As the path of rays of light coming from the star goes on varying slightly, the apparent position of the star fluctuates and the amount of starlight entering the eye flickers – the star sometimes appears brighter.

Why don’t the planets twinkle?

The planets are much closer to the earth, and are thus seen as extended sources. If  a planet as a collection of a large number of point-sized sources of light, the total variation in the amount of light entering our eye from all the individual point-sized sources will average out to zero, there by nullifying the twinkling effect.

Advance Sunlight and Delayed Sunset:

The Sun is visible to us about 2 minutes before the actual sunrise, and about 2 minutes after the actual sunset because of atmospheric refraction.


Tyndall Effect:

When beam of light strikes tiny water droplets, suspended particles of dust etc.(called as Colloidal Particles), the path of the beam becomes visible. This is known as Tyndall Effect. The colour of scattered light depends upon the size of colloidal particles. Very fine particles scatter mainly blue light while particles of larger size scatter light of longer wavelengths.

Sky appears blue in colour

The colour of the sky appears blue due to scattering of light. When the sunlight passes through the atmosphere, fine particles in air will scatter the blue colour more strongly than red.