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Uluru: Recipe for a Sunset

What to see at an Uluru sunset?

This famous event has been witnessed by weird, freaky and scary creatures (think dinosaurs and giant wombats the size of cars), for millions of years; the Anangu for 30,000 years and by European explorers adventurers, and travelers since the 1870s. It has rightly become one of the must see Australian Outback experiences. From the view areas located 2.5 km away, you can take in the western aspect of Uluru. As you stand on the iron rich sands around Uluru National Park sipping a cold drink, you will notice several changes as the sun dips towards the horizon behind you. The beauty of the event increases. Three things come together to hit maximum effect about 1 minute before sunset. So let’s check out our ingredients. 1) Uluru Uluru itself has a red iron oxide coating on it. This looks brown at midday when the sun is directly overhead but the red becomes more and more intense all afternoon as the sun tracks to the west. This red is due to the oxidising process occurring on the surface of the rock. Pay attention throughout the afternoon as the colour changes begin early! 2) Atmosphere As the sun drops towards the horizon the light has to travel through a thicker atmosphere and because of this most of the colours are filtered out leaving the red end of the light spectrum. 3) Dust Australia is a dusty place. This dust is often visible as you fly over the continent at sunset. It’s a red murky haze visible at dawn and dusk as a smudgy cloud on the horizon. In Central Australia this cloud is made up of suspended dust particles up to around 100m above the plain.

The Event As the sun drops to the west, these 3 ingredients come together. Red light streams through the atmosphere hitting the red rock of Uluru. Just before sunset, if the sky is cloud free, this light drops into the dusty air. This event often results in a major reddening of the rock a minute before sunset. Just after this, a shadow appears on the lower levels of Uluru. This is the shadow of the earth’s horizon. It quickly and visibly moves up the face of Uluru covering the rock.


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