After an afternoon of ice skating, I talked the family into making a quick trip up to Del Cerro Park in Palos Verdes. It takes a while to get there from home, but since we were already up in the hills for the ice rink, it was about five minutes. My original plan was just to walk out there myself, spend five minutes enjoying the view and taking pictures, then head back, but the five-year-old wanted to come along rather than wait in the car with mom.
Of course kids have their own pace, and while he wasn’t terribly interested in looking out at the ocean from a hilltop a few thousand feet up, he was fascinated by a lot of the other things along the way, which was how we ended up getting close to the hilltop at the right time for this view of the sky, sundogs, cirrus clouds, criss-crossing contrails, and silhouetted trees.
To be honest, he wasn’t terribly interested in that view either. At five, checking out foxtails and giant clover and gopher holes and fragments of concrete slabs (in a suspiciously flat and rectangular depression) and looking for the entrance to an incredibly long stairway and climbing and balancing on logs and looking for “the actual park part of the park” (i.e. the playground) are more appealing, and I barely had a chance for this moment to register.
We did eventually make it up to the top of the hill and the viewpoint. The ocean was covered in haze, completely blocking the view of Catalina Island and any chance of watching the patterns made by ocean currents and waves far below. That was fine. It wasn’t the highlight for either of us.
The bright line above the sun is just a contrail, high enough to catch the light without being tinted orange. The one off to the right is a sundog, ice crystals reflecting the sunlight. When I saw it I thought it was too far away to be an ordinary sundog, and might be part of a less common halo, but once I looked at how far away it appeared on camera (it’s all about the angle) I realized it was in the right place.
Sun halo fragments, clockwise from upper left:
- A sundog to the left of the sun.
- Part of a 22° circular halo to the right.
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.