Tuesday, February 3, 2015

sundog comet cloud

sundog comet cloud --
ice above, ice below
a foot of fresh snow

Late afternoon after a two-day ice and snowstorm, I'm walking back from the mailbox, looking down at the road, stepping around patches of ice laid bare by the snow plow. Some impulse urges me to take my eyes off the road and look up above the snow-covered trees. Cotton fiber clouds float high in the sky. I turn around to get a 360 degree view, and there's a mock sun. Only one, to the left of the sun. This sundog has a long, fluffy tail. Or perhaps the parhelia is really a rainbow comet spewing ice crystals as it follows the setting sun.

Like a rainbow arc, these baby rainbows are the result of refracted light. In the case of parhelia, sunlight passing through hexagonal plate-like ice crystals gets bent 22 degrees before it reaches our eyes. If the flat crystal faces are oriented horizontally, we see sundogs; if they are randomly oriented, we see a halo.

The black and white scenery after the snowfall has a stark beauty, but the brightly colored spot overhead creates a cheerful contrast.

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