A Sunny Cold Sunday is a Good Day to Find Sun Dogs

When the temperature is just right, and the sky is clear, you can see some amazing phenomenon from the Sun.  It isn’t your eyes playing a trick on you, it just means you’re seeing the right conditions for a really amazing experience.

Sundogs in the morning

Sun Dogs, known scientifically as Parhelia, typically appear as two bright patches on either side of the Sun.  Occasionally they reveal rainbow colours in their pattern, but can be quite bright.  They are most easily visible when the Sun is low in the sky.

Sun Dogs are made from the refraction of ice crystals in the upper atmosphere.  They are visible in any season anywhere in the world, but are more common in winter conditions, as ice crystals can form lower in the atmosphere.

Flat hexagonal ice crystals act as tiny prisms that bend light at a minimum angle of 22 degrees, and if randomly oriented in the atmosphere, they will produce a solar halo, essentially a complete ring around the Sun.  But when it is colder, the crystals can sink in the atmosphere, causing them to align themselves vertically, resulting in horizontal refraction, and focussing the bright spots as Sun Dogs on either side of the Sun.

Making Sundogs

So if you feel like getting up early this Winter to enjoy some rare sunshine, you can rest assured that there’s nothing magical about what you’re seeing.  Just some science!

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