The Intractable Autodidact

You are your own best teacher

Sun Dogs, Moon Dogs, and Halos

I saw the coolest thing on April 1, and this is not a belated April Fool’s prank. The midday sun was encircled by an enormous bright & beautiful halo. It looked like a giant eye, with a very clear blue sky as background. The intensity and clarity of this halo was almost alarming, quite eldritch really. I had once before in my life seen a halo around the sun, also in South Florida. Somewhat ironically, given my sub-tropical location, these halos are caused by ice particles in the atmosphere. A strong light source interacts with the ice crystals, which can reflect and refract the light, sometimes breaking it up into its component colors, all depending on the shape of the crystals themselves.

Sun Halo, Islamorada, Florida Keys

I had believed this phenomenon to be called a “sun dog,” but have since learned that sun dogs are bright spots of light sometimes accompanying a sun halo such as this. Sometimes called a “second” or “mock” sun — more formally a parhelion — I couldn’t make out any sun dogs with this halo.

Both beautiful and uncanny, they’ve undoubtedly caused quite a panic throughout history. But we’re no longer such superstitious creatures, are we?

And not to be outdone, the moon can be graced with a halo also. This one was shot outside my house in Miami. The dots across the lower right are the blinking marker lights of a passing plane in this long-exposure image:

Moon Halo

Panic! It's a Sun Halo!


9 comments on “Sun Dogs, Moon Dogs, and Halos

  1. Mari
    April 9, 2012

    This is so cool and beautiful

  2. sonjarosas
    April 9, 2012

    Great pictures! Did it rain after you saw these? A ring around the sun or moon usually indicates oncoming rain.

    I remember the first time I saw sun dogs. It was in late in Portland, Oregon and I was walking home from the store. I did a triple-take and was sure I was seeing things before I realized what they were!

    • kentiki
      April 10, 2012

      It did rain many hours later. I too was awestruck the first time I saw one. What’s also remarkable is the amount of people who don’t notice at all!!

  3. Anne Jensen
    April 9, 2012

    If you want to see a lot of them, come to the Arctic! Here’s a few pictures of a particularly spectacular display.

    • kentiki
      April 10, 2012

      The Arctic is one of my favorite places on Earth. I would love to see these there. Nice shots!

  4. JR Ledesma
    April 10, 2012

    Great shots!!!! Love the information on the ice particles…

  5. Fork in My Eye
    April 11, 2012

    I seen halos around the moon but new a sun halo (or a sun dog). Very cool photos!

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