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Weather Academy: Color Vs. Heat

Updated: Jul. 7, 2021 at 7:56 AM CDT
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - On this week’s Weather Academy, we’re kicking off July by exploring the topic of heat. Today we will specifically be diving into the concept of color versus heat.

The color of an object affects what colors the object reflects, and what it absorbs. We can relate this to how hot certain colors get compared to others. We will start with white and work our way through the rainbow until we reach black.

First, let’s talk about white. White is a bad absorber of light because it reflects all colors, not taking in any light energy. It only reflects the color waves, meaning that it’s not absorbing much heat, and therefore that makes it the coolest color.

When we talk about the other colors on the spectrum from yellow to blue, the lighter the color is the less light that is absorbed. On the flip side, the darker the color is, the more light energy the surface absorbs and the hotter the surface will get. So if you had a light red and a dark red blanket, the darker red would be hotter than the light red.

Now, let’s talk about black. Black is a little bit different because it absorbs all of the colors on the spectrum. It takes in all of that light and then transfers it into energy that is radiated into heat. Because of this, black is the hottest color. That’s why we always stress the importance of wearing light-colored clothing on hot days to better protect yourself from the heat.

To test out this concept, we sat different colored t-shirts out in the hot sun. Our air temperature was about 80 degrees at the time of the experiment and we let the shirts soak up the sun for a little over an hour. Based on our hypothesis, the white shirt should be the coolest and the black shirt should be the hottest.

The results are as follows:

The results of our experiment show the relationship between the color of an object and how...
The results of our experiment show the relationship between the color of an object and how quickly it heats up in the sun.(KNOE)

In the end, our hypothesis was correct. The white t-shirt was about 30 degrees cooler than the black t-shirt.

There are a few different factors that can play a role in how the temperature gun reads the temperature. In our experiment, the cloud cover and the breeze could have affected the temperatures of the shirts. If you’re planning to do this one at home, take into account the other factors at play like the weather conditions or what kind of surface the shirts are on because that could alter your findings.

If you do try this experiment at home, share your pictures with us! Also, let us know what weather or science questions you have and we will try to answer them in future Weather Academy episodes.

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