Solar Halos and Imposter Suns

Believe it or not, solar halos and imposter suns (sun dogs) are real effects caused when light from the sun hits ice crystals at just the right angle.

When Finland resident Pauli Hänninen first saw strange circles of light in the sky, his thoughts were of some kind of cosmic-scale natural disaster, or even extraterrestrials. But what he witnessed above his home was no disaster. It was something else entirely. Sun halos happen when the air is cold and ice crystals in cirrostratus clouds act like prisms, reflecting light in particular directions. When the sun is at a 22-degree angle, it creates this effect.


The bright spots around the halo are known as sun dogs. They are also called mock suns.

A sun dog (or sundog) or mock sun, formally called a parhelion (plural parhelia) in meteorology, is an atmospheric optical phenomenon that consists of a bright spot to the left and/or right of the Sun. Two sun dogs often flank the Sun within a 22° halo. The sun dog is a member of the family of halos, caused by the refraction of sunlight by ice crystals in the atmosphere. Sun dogs typically appear as a pair of subtly colored patches of light, around 22° to the left and right of the Sun, and at the same altitude above the horizon as the Sun. They can be seen anywhere in the world during any season, but are not always obvious or bright. Sun dogs are best seen and most conspicuous when the Sun is near the horizon.


Here are a few more awesome images of sun dogs to enjoy:

What would you think if you walked outside one morning and saw this last image? It looks like a religious experience or cosmic cataclysm.

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