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Strange Weather Cousins on the Oregon Coast: Green Flash and the Novaya Zemlya

Published 05/31/2018 at 6:35 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

Strange Weather Cousins on the Oregon Coast: Green Flash and the Novaya Zemlya

(Oregon Coast) - Sunsets are always a much anticipated moment on the Oregon coast, but some rare conditions give an extra big show. Two phenomena are related: the much-coveted Green Flash at Sunset and its more elaborate cousin, the Novaya Zemlya effect.

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The startling sight known as the "Green Flash at Sunset" is a little more apt to happen during summer's lovely weather and fall's "Second Summer" on the coast.

Under the right conditions, you may see a brief green blob directly above the sun, just before the last sliver dips below the horizon. Or the the whole or the bulk of the sun turns green. A little more frequent is a slightly longer, green blob that lingers just above the sunset or around the outer edges, usually favoring one side or the other a bit. Often, it moves and shifts in size, taking a second to three or four seconds on average. Flash is a bit of a misnomer: it's longer than that.

It’s subtle, however.

This can mostly – and there’s a catch - happen on a day of no clouds. Yet it’s not completely limited to that, in spite of what the more conventional wisdom says about the phenomena.

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 disappearing 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 actually documented on film.

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.

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.”

This can happen with sunrises as well, giving the impression the sun is rising earlier than it should be.

Many times it is accompanied by the famed Green Flash at Sunset – also the result of refraction. There, the last rays of the sun suddenly turn green for a few seconds. Or, in typical Novaya Zemlya fashion, a small green blob pops up above the sun. Pictured at the top is a series of green flash shots taken by Oregon Coast Beach Connection in the past.

The Novaya Zemlya phenomenon is named after the series of Russian islands known as the Novaya Zemlya, where it was first documented in the 1500s. Eerily, the phenomenon can also slightly resemble a nuclear blast mushroom cloud, and this is an island chain used by the Russians for nuclear testing. Where to stay for this event - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour. More green flash and novaya zemlya below:

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