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Moon Halo or Lunar Corona: What You're Seeing on Washington Coast / Oregon Coast

Published 01/09/23 at 9:09 PM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Moon Halo or Lunar Corona: What You're Seeing on Washington Coast / Oregon Coast

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(Manzanita, Oregon) – It's not uncommon – to say the least – to look up while you're on the Oregon coast or Washington coast and see a lot of clouds. At night, however, if there's clouds and a moon, you may be in for something interesting and perhaps more amazing than you think. (All photos Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

There's something around the moon. But is it a moon halo or a lunar corona you're seeing?

Oregon Coast Beach Connection has had a lot of luck in this department, capturing a fair amount of both. We still as yet have to capture it on the Washington coast, however, but we know it happens there because it also happens all around the world.

One is a giant ring around the moon – a cold, hazy white, differing in faintness, and always a really wide circumference. The other is a smallish, kind'a chunky blur of rainbow colors.


Moon halo in Depoe Bay

Yes, those terms are self-explanatory. You can tell what is a moon halo and what is a lunar corona quite easily. Although don't mix up either with a moonbow – a kind of rainbow generated by the moon at night. This article won't cover that.

Both the corona and halo are created by ice crystals, but the lunar corona can also be created by a few other wet things in the air.

A moon halo is rarer than a lunar corona, but believe it or not there are also solar coronas created in the same fashion. However, according to National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the coronas around the sun generally can't be seen because the sun is so bright it blows out the colors.

So what creates a moon halo and a solar corona?

Moon halos are made of tiny ice crystals that have clung together some 20,000 feet above the ground, usually in the form of thin, wispy clouds. They are thin enough that they often can't be seen at night. However, photographs taken by Oregon Coast Beach Connection definitely show the cirrostratus clouds that make for these gorgeous, even portent-like sights.

The crystals bend the light from the moon at an angle of 22 degrees.

According to NOAA, cirrostratus clouds like this often cover the whole sky in a massive sheet. During the day, they too can create sun halos.

Now here's where the sky-high fun on the Washington coast or Oregon shoreline takes a rather mystic turn. There's an old wives tale that moon halos can predict weather. Meteorologists would generally say “bunk” to that, but not with sun halos.

Those cirrostratus clouds are actually a bit of a harbinger of cooler, wetter weather on the way. So if you see one on an Oregon beach or the Washington coastline at night, there's a decent chance rain or even snow is on the way.

In fact, the night this shot was taken in Depoe Bay, it was an unusually warm, sunny January day. Sure enough, the next day was freezing winter cold the coastlines of Washington and Oregon are known for.

When it comes to lunar coronae (plural for corona), it's water droplets creating this small, circular rainbow effect, often created by good ol' cumulus clouds, often ones that have already been dumping rain on you. However, ice crystals can do this (you can feel the chill then) and even pollen particulates.

The corona has been rather amusing at times, looking like a giant Pac Man in the sky. They always change and shift shape with the movement of the clouds.

In all cases, with the moon halo or the lunar coronae, those particles bend – or refract light. The coronae are really no different than a rainbow, which is all about defraction and wet stuff in the air. As an added extra spice, the halos can help you tell weather a little bit – although the corona don't.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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