Tag Archives: halo

Rainbow Cloud

Circumhorizon arc fragment, halo and contrail

I noticed the halo around the sun as soon as I walked out the door for lunch on Thursday. The rainbow cloud? That appeared as I walked past a building. I saw it as soon as the southern sky came into view again.

The colors got more intense over the next few minutes, and I kept taking photos until my phone locked up. I stood there watching the colors intensify, then fade, while I pulled out the battery and waited for the phone to reboot.

A man who’d been sitting nearby, buried in his phone, looked up wondering what I was taking pictures of. He’d never seen anything like it before, and wondered what it was, and fortunately I was able to answer.

At the right angle, ice crystals in a cirrus cloud refract sunlight to produce a feathery rainbow effect. The circumhorizon arc runs parallel to the horizon, and while it can be long, it’s usually only seen in fragments like this. I’ve only seen a few of these myself, and it’s been years since I’ve seen one this intense. I took this photo through my polarized sunglasses, but the colors were bright even without them.

When my phone froze, he offered to send me one of his pictures just in case mine hadn’t actually saved. Fortunately they had, and I actually posted to Flickr several hours before his message made it through the cell network.

Within a few minutes, the cloud had drifted out of alignment, and the colors had faded completely.

An hour later, on the way back from lunch, I noticed a longer patch in a smoother cloud layer, but it was faint enough that I could only barely see it with my sunglasses on. Without them, it faded completely into the glare.

If I’d had my better camera with the zoom lens, I would have gotten some better shots of just the bright cloud. Then again, I wouldn’t have been carrying it with me to lunch, and the effect was gone in the time it would have taken to run back in and get it. So it’s probably just as well I stayed and watched instead.

Funny thing: I posted a cropped view on on Instagram featuring just the arc fragment and contrail. When I went back to look at the #rainbowcloud tag last night, I found no less than SIX other photos of what was clearly the same cloud at various points in its five-minute lifetime!

Halo achievement unlocked: Spotted a parhelic circle.

Sun Halos over LA: Sundog, 22-degree circular halo, and parhelic circle

Sun halo fragments, clockwise from upper left:

  1. A sundog to the left of the sun.
  2. Part of a 22° circular halo to the right.
  3. Part of a parhelic circle (I think) in the opposite direction.

I spotted these just walking to lunch today, shortly after noon (well, DST noon). I wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first with the parhelic circle. It was clearly too smooth and regular to be part of the clouds surrounding it, but I’d never actually seen one before. Sundogs and 22-degree halos are a lot more common, even in the Los Angeles area.

After looking around for other halos, spotting the sundog and the 22°, and checking the height of both the sun and the mystery arc, I realized it was probably part of the parhelic circle, which when complete is a white circle running around the entire sky at the same altitude as the sun.

It wasn’t clear to the eye, but in the (slightly contrast-enhanced) photo of the sundog, it looks like the circle extends through it…which suggests to me that maybe I have seen it before. I’ve seen what I thought were elongated sundogs, but maybe they were sundogs with small fragments of this halo.

Halos like these are caused by reflections of sunlight inside ice crystals, sometimes near the ground and sometimes, as in this case, up in the sky. Different shapes, sizes and arrangements of crystals create different paths to the eye, which make different halos.

Look up in the sky!

You may never seen a halo around the sun or a sundog next to it, but they’re actually quite common. You just have to look up. (Just don’t stare at the sun!) I usually keep an eye out for sun halos whenever there’s a thin cloud layer, since there usually aren’t ice crystals near the ground in LA, but the upper atmosphere is a lot colder.

Sun Halo

I actually wasn’t looking for this halo. I just happened to look up toward the tree across the street and *wham* – there it was.

Sundog above palm trees.

A post shared by Kelson Vibber (@kelsonv) on

Just one day later, I saw a fainter halo while walking to lunch…and noticed this rainbow-like sundog off to the right of the sun. I tried to take another shot with my sunglass lens in front of the phone, but fumbled it, and by the time I fixed the settings, it was gone.

You don’t even have to be outside — a few weeks ago I posted a view through an office window. But you do have to look up once in a while!

Sundog, Saddleback, Clouds and Dust

Saddleback, Sundog, Clouds and Dust

Seen from near LAX through an office window. The Santa Ana winds have cleared away the smog, making the view unusually clear (until the dust takes its place).

The sundog near the top of the frame was definitely in the sky and not on the window, and was visible no matter where I moved — I actually had to adjust the angle to avoid a reflection on the window that would have drowned it out! Timing is everything, though: I went to grab a cup of coffee from the break room right after this, and it was already gone when I got back.