The science behind what you see in the sky: Sun dogs and arcs


MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Last weekend, did you see sun dogs, halos, and different types of arcs in the sky? News 5’s Caroline Carithers spoke with Jonathan Howell, Science and Operations Officer at the National Weather Service in Mobile about how these form and when we see them.

Howell explains, “What happens is, light shines through ice crystals and it refracts off of these ice crystals to for these various arcs, halos, and sun dog type features in the sky.”

What you see depends on the angle at which the sun’s rays hit the ice crystals. If it hits at a 22º, that is when you get the halos and sun dogs, but if it hits at a different angle you can get the various arcs.

To see these features, we have to have sunlight and cirrus clouds (the thin and wispy clouds) that are high level and contain ice crystals.

When light refracts, it separates into different wavelengths which is why you see all of the different colors!


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