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Freaky, Funky Sights You Can See in Oregon Coast Skies

Published 02/09/2019 at 10:23 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Freaky, Funky Sights You Can See in Oregon Coast Skies

(Oregon Coast) – The rare delights are often the greatest. That’s certainly true of certain meteorological phenomena, at least on the Oregon coast. Some of the trippiest stuff found along the beaches happens in the skies. (Photo above: a sun dog at Seaside, courtesy Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium).

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Green Flash at Sunset, the weird double-headed sunset, moon halos and sun dogs are the wildest discoveries to be made. And wow, are they worth keeping a lookout for.

Sun dogs are not limited to the Oregon coast - you can see them anywhere. But there’s an added bonus of excitement when spotting these on the beach.

They are also known as mock suns, but their scientific name is parhelia. Typically they appear as a pair of bright spots on either side of the sun, but occasionally seen as a singular object. A pair of bright spots is often seen with a large, luminous area around the sun as well.

“Also known as a phantom sun, sun dogs are created by ice crystals in the atmosphere interacting with light,” said Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium.

Sun dogs are part of a larger family of halos that includes the stunning moon halos – which come in many forms.

Like many light phenomena associated with the sun – including the Green Flash at sunset – refraction is the key. Scientists say sun dogs are most often caused by ice crystals with a hexagonal shape, sitting high in the atmosphere in very cold air. These act like prisms, bending the light and making interesting, luminous shapes. The taller the sun dog, the more these objects are wobbling as they move through the atmosphere.

The side of a sun dog that's closest to the sun tends to get colored red, while the opposite sides drift more into blues and oranges.


Moon halos can be at least as stunning, and they are the result of tiny ice crystals lurking high in the sky, usually around 20,000 feet above and existing as thin, wispy clouds. These come in two flavors: a giant, whitish ring around the moon, or a blob of colors surrounding the moon. Both require a thin layer of clouds that does essentially the same thing in terms of refraction that the sun dog does.

Many of the multicolored forms are much smaller, but they seem to have a rainbow full of colors. Amusingly, they can also resemble Pac Man in the sky.

Moon halos like this – and the whitish kinds - often mean rain or snow are coming soon, and they are often the sign that storm clouds are right behind. But not always. The photo above was taken in Depoe Bay on a September night when the weather was warm, and in fact the following day had sunny skies and temps near a balmy 70 degrees.

The Green Flash at Sunset is a rare and coveted sight, but it’s also a bit of a misnomer: it’s longer than that. Really, you see a few seconds of the sun either turning completely green, a blob of green appearing above the sun, or the outer edges going green. Often, it moves and shifts in size, taking a second to three or four seconds on average.

You see this only during the last few seconds of the sun just before it dips below the horizon. The sun is just a sliver at this point – a tiny section of it hovering above the abyss and the final part of the day.

What causes this? Essentially, it’s the result of a variety of conditions that block out certain color bands for a time. There’s so much atmosphere between you and the horizon where the sun is sitting that all color bands except the green get squeezed out.

This scientific oddity was for years a means of ridicule for people claiming to see it, but by the '70s it was finally documented on film.

All this can only happen during the right conditions, mostly when there are no clouds between you and the horizon. Mostly, that is. Keep reading.

The green flash is a cousin of an unusual ocean weather phenomenon called the Novaya Zemlya effect. 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.

The Novaya Zemlya can happen with sunrises as well, giving the impression the sun is rising earlier than it should be. The cause of it is very similar to the Green Flash: refraction.

Here’s the unusual part of the Novaya Zemlya: it can also be accompanied by a green flash. Since the physics are similar, if you look closely at the double-headed sun you may see various shades of green. Oregon Coast Lodgings for this - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour



 

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