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Keep an eye on the Sun…

.. or rather the sky around the Sun, because at this time of year – when the temperature is plummeting and the air is icy – we can sometimes see some very interesting and beautiful lighting effects “up there”…

The most obvious and most impressive phenomena we can see at this time of year is probably a “solar halo” – a big, glowing ring around the Sun…

halo

Then there’s the “Sun Pillar” – as its name suggests, a tall column of light that appears above the setting Sun. This can often be very bright, and almost the colour of marmalade or molten gold, and is especially striking when seen above a horizon of trees or rooftops…

sunpillar_kangas_full

But as striking as these are, I think it’s true to say that the winter light display most frequently seen by people is a display of “Sun Dogs” – twin, small glowing areas of colour to either side of the Sun that look like pieces of a rainbow.

spokane-sundog1

More properly called “parhelia”, these can look very striking indeed, and occasionally can be so bright it looks like there are three Suns in the sky, and you can’t help wondering if that’s what the sky would look like- sometimes, at least – if Earth orbited a triple star…

sundogs

You can go to websites for long, detailed explanations of the reasons behind these light displays, but basically all these effects are caused by sunlight streaming through – and being refracted by – ice crystals in the air. Imagine the air above and around you full of teeny tiny prisms, and you get the idea.

So, on these short, chilly days, whenever the sky’s clear keep an eye on the sky around the Sun. You might see something amazing!

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2 Responses

  1. Hi, I love your photos/blog and have a favor to ask. I write a nature column for a local newspaper-The York Weekly, out of the Seacoast Media Group. I wanted to do a column on sun dogs this week but couldn’t get a photo myself so am looking for a free one on the internet. Could I use yours shown above? I could reference your blog/give you credit in the caption or even in the column-in fact I’d love to quote your concise and accurate explanation of the cause of parahelia. You can find my column by going to http://www.seacoastonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?category=NEWS15 and scrolling down. I totally understand if you don’t want me to use it, just thought I’d ask since it’s a particularly nice photo of a parahelia

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