Monday Morning Sun Dog

I am fascinated by meteorological phenomena.  Not so much the -5 F (with -29 F wind chill) we’re experiencing right now, but, rather, the ‘hey, look up in the sky, over there,’ stuff.  This morning, nature treated me with a sun dog.  Two, actually, but I couldn’t capture both in the photo at the same time. 

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It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a sun dog!

Sun dogs (official scientific name: parhelia*) are parenthetical rainbows that punctuate the sun.  I think they are one of the coolest things to see in the winter sky. Especially on brutally cold days like today. 

Warning: The following paragraph contains SCIENCE. 

Sun dogs form when hexagonal-shaped ice crystals in cirrus clouds refract sunlight.  The light is bent at a 22 degree angle by the horizontally aligned ice crystals, creating a bright beam of refracted light.   A great visual explanation can be found on the U of I website.  Parhelia can also be seen at night, under the same conditions, hanging around the moon (these are called moon dogs).  If the orientations of the crystals become less ordered, a halo forms, which is also pretty cool, too.  I took a picture of a moon halo in September 2012.

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Moon Dog

Whether or not you appreciate parhelia for their beauty, the science behind them, or a little of both, they are definitely a pretty amazing phenomenon.  What is your favorite meteorological treat?

*Parhelia is plural.  Parhelion the term for a single sun dog. 

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