Thursday, June 19, 2008
Sundogs and Pyramid Ice Halos
What if the atmosphere above you became one gigantic lens? This actually happens when a nearly transparent sheet of pyramid shaped ice crystals falls from the sky in a common orientation. These ice-crystals act together like millions of miniature ice mirrors, with external and internal reflections from different faces creating arcs and halos of different radii. An amazing display of pyramid ice crystal halos was captured on June 5 above Tampere, Finland. Visible above are very unusual sun halos of 9, 18, 20, 23, and 24 degrees. In contrast, thin and flat falling ice crystals will produce a halo of 22 degrees only. The high clouds containing the ice crystals are faintly visible, as are some sundogs. The usual Sun image was covered behind a light post, and the above image was significantly digitally sharpened. It is not currently known how large areas of nearly uniform pyramidal ice crystals form.
What if you woke up one morning and saw more than one Sun in the sky? Most probably, you would be seeing sundogs, extra-images of the Sun created by falling ice-crystals in the Earth's atmosphere. As water freezes in the atmosphere, small, flat, six-sided, ice crystals might be formed. As these crystals flutter to the ground, much time is spent with their faces flat, parallel to the ground. An observer may pass through the same plane as many of the falling ice crystals near sunrise or sunset. During this alignment, each crystal can act like a miniature lens, refracting sunlight into our view and creating parhelia, the technical term for sundogs. Sundogs were photographed here in a cloudy sky above the Very Large Array of radio telescopes. The real Sun is near the center above the train tracks. A bright sundog is visible on the far right, and a dim one on the far left. Ice-crystals can create other strange illusions of the Sun and Moon including halos and pillars