Parhelia, or sun dogs in the sky over a snowy forest in Fairbanks, Alaska
Parhelia – Fairbanks, Alaska

There was strong parhelia and sun pillar while driving home from the Yukon Quest start yesterday. This photo was taken at 1:40 pm, very close to solar noon. So that’s about as high in the sky the Sun gets this time of year. The bright side is that we are gaining 7 minutes of sunlight per day. It’s already very noticeable, a month ago we didn’t see the Sun above those trees.

But this is about the parhelia or sun dogs, sun pillar, and partial 22° halo. The refraction of sunlight through ice crystals in the air causes these atmospheric optic effects. When it’s cold in Fairbanks (it was -30°F/-34°C) we get a lot of ice hanging in the air close to the ground and occasional ice fog. That ice and fog make conditions ideal for some significant atmospheric phenomena. If you look closely, directly under the Sun and over the snow, you can see little specs of glowing ice crystals.

CameraNikon NIKON D7100 (Current model NIKON D7500)
LENSSigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM for Nikon (For Canon cameras)
Focal Length22.0 mm (33.0 mm in 35mm)
Exposure Time0.001s (1/1000)

Moon Optics

This effect also happens with the moon, although typically not as bright because the moon isn’t as bright. Most often, I’ll see a 22° halo around the moon and occasionally a moon dog, or paraselene. Although, all the same effects from the Sun can apply to the moon as well. All that matters is the ice in the air and a bright enough light source.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to witness this while watching the aurora one night. The photo below is a moon dog (paraselene) and a 22-degree halo. There’s a bit of a partial paraselenic circle as well (moon equivalent of a parhelic circle).

Moon, moon dog and aurora borealis
Moon, moon dog, and aurora | Gallery Here

Blog Comments

Love your work. Thanks for sharing:)

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