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Parhelion - 'Sundog'... Rainbow around the Sun

by Monty Webb

Posted on November 1, 2010 at 9:45 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 2 at 6:43 AM

This evening I recieved this email with a very cool picture...

This attachment is a picture of a rainbow that I saw in some high thin clouds today near Rough River Lake. It was curved toward the sun instead of the earth. I had never seen this before.
Rick Jennings
Leithchfield, KY
Rich, what you saw this evening is called a Parhelion sometimes called a "Sundog". 

We have all seen rainbows on days when it has been raining and the sun's comes out. But, what is happening when there is no rain and just thin high clouds (cirrus)? 

The same physics that make a rainbow are at play making a Parhelion... The halos or "sundogs" around the sun are usually seen when there are high clouds overhead. Those clouds are made of tiny ice crystals, which will refract the sunlight much like a prism will.   And like magic, you have a rainbow halo around the sun!