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Unique Objects Seen in Oregon Coast Skies This Week

By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff Saturday October 17, 2015    10:20 AM
(Oregon Coast) – UPDATED: Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium snapped the most publicized shots, but she wasn't the only one. Earlier this week, social media lit up with visitors to the Oregon coast taking pictures of the revered and rather rare sun dog in the skies. Even some TV news stations caught it on their beach cams. (Sun dog photos by Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium; all others from Oregon Coast Beach Connection).

"Another unique sighting outside of the Aquarium, a sun dog!," Boothe said. "Also known as a phantom sun, sun dogs are created by ice crystals in the atmosphere interacting with light."

They are also known as mock suns, but their scientific name is parhelia. They often come as a pair of bright spots on either side of the sun, but it seems in Oregon they are more frequently seen as a singular object. A pair of bright spots is often seen with a large, luminous area around the sun as well.

Sun dogs are part of a larger family of halos that includes the stunning moon halos – which come in many forms.

Like many light phenomena associated with the sun – including the Green Flash at sunset – refraction is the key. Scientist say sun dogs are most often caused by ice crystals with a hexagonal shape, sitting high in the atmosphere in very cold air. These act like prisms, bending the light and making interesting, luminous shapes. The taller the sun dog, the more these objects are wobbling as they move through the atmosphere.

The side of a sun dog that's closest to the sun tends to get colored red, while the opposite sides drift more into blues and oranges.

Whats interesting about Boothe's photo is that the oranges are stronger on the sun-ward side of the sun dog. Also, she apparently found only one floating above this part of the Oregon coast, not a pair. The luminous blob around the sun is there, however.

Moon halos are sometimes at least as stunning, and they are the result of tiny ice crystals lurking high in the sky, usually around 20,000 feet above and existing as thin, wispy clouds. These come in two flavors: a giant, whitish ring around the moon, or a blob of colors surrounding the moon. Both require a thin layer of clouds that does essentially the same thing in terms of refraction that the sun dog does.

Many of the multicolored forms are much smaller, but they seem to have a rainbow full of colors. Amusingly, they can also resemble Pac Man in the sky.

Moon halos like this – and the whitish kinds - often mean rain or snow are coming soon, and they are often the forerunners of storm clouds right behind. But not always. The photo above was taken in Depoe Bay on a September night when the weather was warm, and in fact the following day had sunny skies and temps near a balmy 70 degrees.


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