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Oregon Coast's Green Flash at Sunset and Its Wacky Cousin

Published 09/27/2018 at 5:44 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

Oregon Coast's Green Flash at Sunset and Its Wacky Cousin

(Oregon Coast) – Sunsets are always the big attraction on the Oregon coast, but there’s more to them – if you’ll excuse the pun – than meets the eye.

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These days, as crowds of strangers gather together at certain vantage points to watch summer sunsets, you now often hear someone else around you talk about hoping to see the famed “green flash.” One of the more coveted sights on the Oregon coast is that beautiful oddity, and it is really quite rare. It’s so rarely photographed that some science people still don’t believe it exists.

One website, by a man named James Young, features some stunning examples of the green flash on the Oregon coast. His photos are more like what you will see. He explains it this way on the website:

“This phenomenon occurs as the last part of the sun sets in the thick layers of the earth's atmosphere. Just a brief explanation about the thickness of the atmosphere on the horizon will aid one's understanding of how this extraordinary event takes place. Looking straight up (overhead, or to one's zenith), you are essentially looking through 1 layer of atmosphere. This is commonly called 'one (1) air mass'. But looking out across the ocean from sea level, the amount of atmospheric 'thickness' just above the ocean is equivalent to an air mass of 107! This concentrated atmospheric thickness acts like a weak prism, so that as the sun sets, the last sliver of the sun's disk is broken up into a mini spectrum. Since the green light (the predominate color the eye is sensitive to) along with the blue is refracted slightly more than the red end of the spectrum, they remain visible for up to a few seconds longer, thus the brief 'flash' of color.”

Essentially, it means that the atmosphere between you and the sunset is under just the right conditions so that it knocks all the color bands out except the green, leaving that color to briefly dominate.

You have to have just the right conditions for a green flash, and that usually include no clouds between you and the horizon. Being on a high vantage point helps too.


The green flash is a cousin of an unusual ocean weather phenomenon called the Novaya Zemlya effect (above, where you can see a hint of green at the top). Considered quite a rarity in some ways, it may actually be more common to the Oregon coast than many think.

This effect creates an illusion where it seems the sun is setting later than it really is – a kind of double-headed sunset or even a triple one.

In the simplest terms, it's a kind of polar image mirage of the sun right above itself.

According to the Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena, California, the Novaya Zemlya effect is a thin slit of “sunlight traveling along the curvature of the Earth even after the Sun has set. The narrow slit of light travels in azimuth with the Sun below the horizon. This effect occurs primarily at higher latitudes where the angle of the setting Sun to the local horizon can be very shallow.”

These happen at sunrises as well, giving the impression the sun is higher than it really is.

The interesting and enticing fact about the Novaya and the Green Flash: since the Novaya Zemlya works on a lot of the same physics as the green flash it can bring on a green flash. Seeing a Novaya happen is another way to see the flash, and thus increases your general chances of seeing one. The green disk effect is much subtler during a Novaya Zemlya, however, and much harder to see. Oregon Coast Lodgings for this event - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour

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