So you doubted your vision for a second or felt hallucinated for a moment? No, this is no omen that is taking place; neither is it the warning from God for the end of the world! In fact, this is a complete manifestation of nature’s way of leaving its gazers speechless. This is a miraculous process to leave you witnessing a glimpse of heaven. This spectacular concept of three suns is known as ‘Sundogs.’ (No it is not related to dogs either!)
‘Parhelion’, means, “besides the sun” in latin. It is also called a “mock sun” or a “phantom sun”. Sundogs are an atmospheric phenomenon that involves luminous rings leaving an unimaginable impression of 3 suns above the horizon. They are tinted patches of light that appear left or right to the sun.
How Sundogs are formed?
They are formed by the refraction of light from ice crystals at great height and cool clouds during cold weather. These ice crystals that drift in the air at low levels are called diamond dust. They are also formed when the sun reflects off the water on the ground, eventually directing the reflected light onto the clouds in the sky. You might be aware of the light passing through prisms that culminates in bending of the light. Crystals do just that! They deflect the light passing through them at 22°. The crystals sink in the air, thereby making them vertically aligned, eventually making the sundogs visible. In short, it’s all about the interaction between the light and the matter.
The higher the sun rises; the higher the possibility of the crystals getting skewed from the horizontal plane. Although the angle of deviation increases as they move further from the sun, they stay at the same elevation as the sun. They are spread over a diameter of 30 micrometers and are usually shaped in a hexagonal plate form which is either flat or elongated. Their presence is often mistaken as a comet.
Their color varies from orange, to red and sometimes even blue. These colors overlap significantly and therefore are never pure or saturated. The colors eventually unify into the white of the parhelic circle.
They are visible all over the world, at any time no matter what the ground level temperature is. On an average, this phenomenon can be seen at least twice a week, if searched for. They appear mostly during sunrise and sunsets as the sun is low at that time.
Scientists assume that other than earth, it is possible for other planets to experience such a phenomenon. Mars can possibly have sundogs produced by water-ice and CO2 ice. Planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune can undergo this phenomenon by crystals made up of ammonia, methane and other substances.
Ancient Greeks considered Sundogs as the “rain forecasters.” Apart from Sundogs, there are also moon dogs, which usually take place because of the refraction of the moonlight. However, their occurrence is not as common the sundogs, as they usually appear at night and also at the time when the moon is at the peak of its brightness.