"Why is the sky blue" is a question that everybody seems to know, and in modern times is associated with children's innate curiosity. If I casually flip through a few of the children's science books I have, there's always some mention of it. Of course, one could argue that simply because the sky exists, and is blue, the question must have existed forever. However, the question has become so popular, that personally I believe I must have heard the question from other sources before I had even asked it myself. So my question is, who was the person who popularized the question (through science broadcasting perhaps), or who published an attempt to explain why the sky is blue?

  • $\begingroup$ Might be as old as human curiosity itself... $\endgroup$
    – vonbrand
    Dec 28, 2015 at 0:17

1 Answer 1


It may have been, indirectly, Charles Dickens who popularized the question "Why is the sky blue?" In the 1850s Dickens edited a weekly titled Household Words which was inexpensive and had a wide circulation. Dickens had recruited Henry Morley as a contributor to the magazine. Morley wrote a piece called "Light and Air" which appeared in the 20 September 1851 issue of Household Words, and in it he says:

Now, why is the sky blue? Not only does the air absorb light; it reflects it also. The particles of air reflect, however, most especially the blue ray, while they let the red and his companions slip by. This constant reflection of the blue ray causes the whole air to appear blue;...

This same article later appeared in Harper's Magazine, and the question later being appearing in publications like Peterson's Familiar Science and The Reason Why?.

A reason to think the publication in Dickens' Household Words was instrumental in popularizing the question is that the Google Books N-Gram viewer shows the phrase first appearing in its corpus about 1852 and then growing in frequency.


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