Field Notes: Sundogs

Sundog SliderStory and photos by Laurie Ezzell Brown

The appearance of what seemed to be a triple sunrise Tuesday morning had Hemphill County residents reaching for their smart phones and cameras and calling their neighbors. One resident—Leron Thompson—even contacted The Record office, with specific orders to the editor to get out there and take a photograph of that sunrise.

“You’d better hurry,” Thompson said, though he needn’t have bothered. Any sunrise good enough to elicit a phone call to the local newspaper is one we don’t want to miss—and we know from sad experience that they rarely last long.

This is what we found (photo above), and Thompson really wasn’t kidding. What we saw rising above the crisp white snow and the silhouetted trees on the eastern horizon seemed almost to be a rainbow, with three sundogs at its base. The weather phenomena is either called a “sun ghost” or “halo,” the main difference being the rainbow effect which we thought we saw, but which was less evident in photographs.

According to planetpals.com, if the sun is really close to the horizon and there are cirrus clouds in the sky, sometimes the sun can appear on both sides as reflections, giving the impression of three suns appearing together in the sky. The sun “ghost” is actually the color of the bright points of light created by the sun and deflected by crystals in high clouds.

2014-02-05 08.13.39-1A “halo,” we learned, is more like a rainbow, formed around the sun due to moisture (in this case, ice crystals) being refracted from the sun’s rays in the upper atmosphere. Sometimes two or more areas of the circle of arcs surrounding the sun will be brighter, forming what are called “sun dogs.” Haloes can also form around the moon, and occasionally around the brighter stars and planets like Venus.

Whether “sun ghost” or “halo,” we were certainly glad to have gotten Leron Thompson’s call sending us forth into the frigid morning—and almost as glad to get back to our computer where we downloaded the beautiful photographs while sipping a hot black cup of coffee.