Category Archives: observations
Spring halos in Eastern Germany: 46°/supralateral splittings, tangent/Parry arc twins, a great pyramidal show, and biting cold
During the past months the sun was only rarely seen in Eastern Germany, and the number of observed halos was correspondingly low. Moreover, when everybody was hoping for the onset of spring, the winter regained its strength after March 10th, and people were confronted with masses of snow and untypically cold days and nights for this time of year. But embedded in this belated winter period was a row of days (March 23rd-28th) with a remarkable outbreak of halo activity. This report will concentrate mainly on my own observations, though there is also more and complementary material available at the Meteoros message board (in German language).
Saturday, March 23rd
In Hörlitz, Lower Lusatia (51° 31’ N, 13° 57’ E), the 22° ring and upper tangent arc (or upper part of the circumscribed halo, respectively) were visible from noon on, later to be joined with a suncave Parry arc for some minutes around 15:00 CET (15:01, unsharp masked) as well as a parhelion with a notable blue hue (15:08). From 16.00 to 16.45 the circumzenithal arc was also present. In the evening, the 22° ring, circumscribed halo, both paraselenae and the paraselenic circle appeared at the moon (19:34, USM). The further development is nicely illustrated by a time lapse video I took from 19:54 to 21:54. A weak 9° ring was also present, as visible in the filtered version of the frame from 21:04.
Sunday, March 24th
Solar halos were again visible from noon on, but quickly changing as the cirrus clouds moved across the sky. I took a second time lapse video (13:23 to 14:40) from the same position as in the night before, showing the 22° ring and the upper part of the circumscribed halo. Note the increase in the wind velocity compared to the night before. This really “fresh” breeze from the East in combination with temperatures below 0 °C even at high noon was challenging for both the observer an the technical equipment. Though the video may suggest that the halo activity decreased during the afternoon, there were occasionally some colourful surprises embedded in the flow of cirrus patches (16:00).
Monday, March 25th and Tuesday, 26th (after midnight)
I continued my observations in the afternoon of March 25th from the town of Dresden, Saxonia (51° 3’ N, 13° 46’ E). However, as I was later told, I already missed a parhelic circle segment that had been visible around noon. When I had the opportunity to look at the sky, all the halos seemed to reassemble slowly out of nothing (15:58, USM). This pattern of standard halos remained stable throughout the afternoon, and was joined by a photographically detectable supralateral arc at around 17:15. Its left wing became visible to the naked eye at around 17:35. Remarkably, a photo from 17:27 shows both the supralateral arc and the real circular 46° halo in the unsharp masked version, with the former touching the circumzenithal arc and the latter missing it; and both arcs merging at the left side at the spot where I later could see the “supralateral” arc by eye. Very likely this bright region was indeed not a pure supralateral arc, but a mixture with the 46° ring. An alternative way for halo image processing is the subtraction of the blue image channel from the red, which also yielded a convincing result here. Throughout the last months I had the opportunity to record this 46°/supralateral merging (or splitting) effect several times, though it never was clearly visible to the naked eye and could only be revealed by image processing.
At 18:10 (2° solar elevation) all halos had vanished for the naked eye, except for a bright upper tangent arc sitting on a weak 22° ring. Once more, unsharp masking revealed a surprise, namely a weak upper sunvex Parry arc looking like a shifted twin of the tangent arc (USM, R-B). This Parry arc had not been present in photos taken 8 minutes earlier.
Up to this point, the halo activity had already been much higher than what we get in average, but the definite climax was yet to come during the night. A weak 22° ring with a right paraselene (the view to left was obscured) was present around 21:00. At around 21:50 a weak 9° halo could be traced from the photos. At 23:30 the 9° ring was plainly visible, having a brighter spot at its bottom (i.e. the lower 9° plate arc). Due to this encouraging observation, I placed my camera on a cherry pit pillow at the balcony balustrade, and started an automatic time lapse series over almost 4 hours. Occasionally, I entered the balcony from inside to take a glimpse at the sky, but I did not want to disturb the fisheye photo recording by my presence. Hence my visual inspections were not carried out with full adaption to darkness. The 9° ring was very prominent until approx. 03:00, with a bright bottom and from time to time quite bright sides. The 22° halo was rather diffuse, which I took as a sign that further pyramidals might be hidden there. On its top something like a diffuse combination of an upper tangent arc and a 23° plate or Parry arc was seen. Since the unusual quality and rareness of such an observation was immediately clear to me, I was very excited what the time lapse video from 23:49 to 03:42 would reveal. The results did even exceed my expectations, especially in the unsharp masked version. In the following pictures (composites of each two neighbouring frames from the time lapse series for the sake of noise reduction) I labelled the halo species I could identify.
00.32.45, lunar elevation 35° 8’:
The distinction between the 23° plate arc and the Parry arc is difficult, but the presence of the other plate arc justifies the interpretation as the former effect. However, there is not enough detail in the bright region at the bottom of 22° ring to decide if more than an ordinary lower tangent arc, e.g. a 20° plate arc, is present. The circular 23° halo is either missing or masked by the outer intensity gradient of the 22° ring. It is however the only smaller halo that requires the prismatic top faces (or bottom faces, as being equivalent for random orientations) of the crystals, and hence it represents a special case. Against this view stands the presence of the 46° halo (at least 1 h later, see below), which requires such crystal faces as well, so the problem remains open.
A version of this photo without the labels is displayed as the title image of this report.
01.29.45, lunar elevation 29° 39’:
At this stage of the display, the bright regions at the sides of the 9° ring appear very prominent, corresponding to the visual impression. They can be associated with column arcs, however, I did not find traces of column arcs of the other halo families in the photos (yet).
01.36.45, lunar elevation 28° 52’:
A very strong unsharp masking reveals the additional presence of the 35° and 46° halos. The clear intersection with the paraselenic circle demonstrates that indeed the circular 46° ring and not an infralateral/supralateral combination is dominant. Note that this situation changes towards the final frames of the video, in which a clear supralateral arc without a 46° ring can be seen.
All radii have been checked by calculating the angular distance of several stars from the moon.
Tuesday, March 26th and Wednesday, March 27th (after midnight)
During the afternoon the halo activity rose again, until at around 14:00 both a complete 22° ring and 9° ring were visible again in rather structured cirrostratus clouds. Over the next hour, the clouds became more uniform, but also more dense (15:12). Unsharp masking and subsequent Red-Blue subtraction revealed also a weak 35° halo and 46° halo, both not being visible to the naked eye (USM, R-B). In the R-B picture, an additional ring-like feature is visible at about 12° distance from the sun, likely an artefact of this processing mode in connection with the camera and lens. It could be traced in later photographs (15:22, USM, R-B, composite of two images), maybe together with faint traces of the pyramidals near the 22° halo. As in the night before, the pyramidals faded over time, until a pattern of prismatic halos remained (16:35, USM).
Moon halos seemed at first unlikely due to the increasingly dense clouds, but after midnight once more the 22°/9° ring combination stood in the sky, however rather diffuse and less colourful than before (00:38, USM, composite of two images). A supralateral arc (or 46° halo) additionally appeared around 02:00 (02:12, USM, composite of two images).
Wednesday, March 27th and Thursday, March 28th (after midnight)
Around noon, a complete parhelic circle together with the 22° ring, circumscribed halo and both parhelia could be seen in the region of Dresden, though I personally missed this observation. When I began to look at the sky in the early afternoon (I was somehow a little afraid that this flood of halos would never end), the parhelic circle had lost most of its brightness, but was still detectable at the sunward side of the sky. No pyramidal halos showed up anymore, so maybe the most exotic halo species at this point was a small Lowitz arc reaching from the right parhelion to the 22° halo. However, the detection is difficult due to the presence of contrails and lower clouds, that produce artefacts in the image processing (13:34, USM). R-B subtraction also revealed a weak 46° halo.
Again, the clouds did thicken towards the evening, but this day before midnight a light snowfall set in. The series of halos seemed to have come to definite end. Nonetheless, during the night the upper part of the 22° halo appeared on the moon, just as to wave goodbye after an astonishing week full of surprises and challenges (02:11) and certainly one of the most remarkable periods in my 18 years of skywatching.
All images and videos from this report can be found here in chronological order. Any details concerning camera and lens type, focal length, precise time stamps etc. will be provided on request.
Author: Alexander Haußmann, Dresden, Germany
The situation shown in the picture is often misinterpreted (Photo taken by Anja Hoff on 22-08-2012). Most people think that the shadow of the plane and the contrail cast on the thin cirrostratus cloud sheet must lay higher than the plane itself. This seems obvious, since the shadows are higher than the objects producing them. The low standing sun leads one to this conclusion – it is shown in the upper sketch:
The sun is perceived as low standing – lower than the clouds. The shadows, necessarily on the other side of the shadowing object, reach higher in the sky, and the illusion is perfect: the shadows must project upwards. But the actual circumstances are quite different. For any observer in the plane, the sun is above the same high over the horizon than it is for the observer on the surface. If he would see the shadow of his own plane, this would be underneath of him and the plane projecting towards the surface of the Earth.
The ground bound observer is a victim of the everyday perception. For him, the atmosphere is a three-dimensional volume, and the sun is located in it. But all the rays of the sun enter and cross the atmosphere parallel. This is shown in the lower sketch. From this it is evident, that the shadows can only be lower than the plane. Even at sunset/sunrise the shadows would not be cast above the plane. The single possibility, which I have had the opportunity to see once, is that the plane heads directly towards the sun eclipsing its own contrail. Another very interesting possibility is the eclipsing of the contrail from one side of the plane by the other, so that the one towards the sun is whitish-bright and the other grayish-dark – indeed a very spectacular view!
The two pictures below are from a series and can be used as a stereoscopic pair. If you look at the pair with crossed view, you will get a 3D impression of the scene – and you will notice that the top of the shadow peaks are much nearer to you than the clouds originating them.
Author: Christoph Gerber, Heidelberg, Germany
On November 28, the webcam of the Meteorological Observatory on the 3106 metres high Mt. Hoher Sonnblick in the Hohe Tauern Mountains in Austria could catch this unbelievable St. Elmo´s Fire. This photographic webcam, a Canon EOS 1100D, was installed by radio hams and takes one picture every 10 minutes.
Weather observer Hermann Scheer describes the meteorological situation as follows: “The day the pictures were taken ist was snowing, and there was a stormy southwesterly wind with wind speeds around 60 kph. There was no thunderstorm near. I did not notice any discharges, but I could clearly hear the crackling noise on the tower outside, which is always a sign that there is a certain voltage applied. When I went to the platform with my camera the first time, I could not catch St. Elmo´s Fire quite clearly and did not really notice how strong it was. Later, during the second photo shooting, the camera on the tripod began to sparkle, and I also noticed the tension in my short hair. Then I saw St.Elmo´s Fire on the suntracker. The interesting phenomenon lasted for about one hour.”
A high field strength under conditions with falling snow and strong wind is not very rare, as these example diagrams from a day with similar weather conditions show (1-2). When there is enough tension generated by wind friction and high humidity, an electric current begins to flow between the charged air and the point of the instrument. The air becomes ionized generating a flickering, pale blue light that looks like a flame. St. Elmo´s Fire is probably reported so rarely because only very few people look for it on mountain tops under such weather conditions, and during thunderstorms there are no people there.
But even if St. Elmo´s Fire is very beautiful to see, it is in any case a warning. If you see St. Elmo´s Fire near, it is probably a hint that a discharge is imminent. So, if you see it, you should look for shelter immediately.
On November 16, 2010, Hans Juergen Heyen had a rather “spooky” day in Düsseldorf. “A short time after noon I took a walk along the river Rhine and wanted to shoot some photographs. In the beginning, the sky was completely clear except some mist, but at about 14 hours some ragged clouds came up which lowered down to about 100 metres above the ground. The clouds were followed by a mixture of fog, sunshine and clouds which in this area (Lower Rhine region, about 45 metres above sea level) is very uncommon. Also the frequent change between a nearly closed layer of stratus clouds and blue sky was rather strange.
A great help for evaluating the situation was the Rheinturm, a TV tower which is about 240 metres high and has a restaurant with an inclined bank of windows at about 180 metres. This tower disappeared and reappeared between the fog and clouds causing some shadow plays and reflections which were rather irritating for the observer. Sometimes even phantoms of the tower appeared. The tower quasi became an actor in this weather phenomenon. Some time ago, I witnessed a similar phenomenon at the same place, which at that time had turned out considerably fainter. But this time, the phenomenon lasted for about two hours. It just seemed as if the Cllerk of the Weather had been sitting in a pub in Düsseldorf Altstadt and lost the control about his remote weather control while drinking the famous Altbier, a very popular kind of beer in Düsseldorf. For people interested in weather phenomena, it was a really gorgeous afternoon”.
Two main phenomena were visible: When the sun was beside the tower, it caused reflections in the bank of windows around the tower restaurant projecting shadow rays onto the wall of fog. This was a kind of reflected anticrepuscular rays (1-2-3-4).
Later, when the sun was almost behind the tower, another strange shadow play became visible. Contrary to what is usual, the shadow of the tower was not on the side of the tower which points away from the sun, but in direction towards the sun. This was because the observer was now postitioned in the diffuse shadow of the tower. Normally he should now see the shadow behind himself on the ground. But as the droplets of the wafts of mist formed a kind of screen in front of and below the top of the tower, the shadow of the tower was now displayed on the fog.
Sometimes the shadow was displayed on several layers of fog forming multiple images [1-2].
When the sun is positioned directly behind the tower, only the upward projection of the tower top is visible, being cast upon ragged clouds above the tower by the low autumn sun. More pictures 1-2-3-4-5-6
When air humidity is high, sometimes wake vortices can be observed on the wings of a plane. These are an accessory phenomenon of the ascending force, which needs a certain underpressure to be effective. This underpressure makes the air flow from beneath the wing to its surface for pressurization. As in these vortices there is an area of especially low pressure, the air cools down adiabatically here, often reaching temperatures below the dew point. This makes the water vapour in the air condensate to steam or fog, making the wakes visible.
In the morning of October 8, 2012, Renate Possiel could take a photograph of this phenomenon from the control tower of Munich airport. That day there were wafts of mist with different ranges of sight on the runways. More photographs: 1-2-3
Another reason for wake vortices to form is the downward acceleration of the air along the wings when the plane is ascending. At low temperatures and high humidity, also here visible condensation can occur. When a plane passes near the sun, sometimes an iridescence of the wakes can be observed, as showed in this photograph taken by Gabor Metzger.
Another articles to this topic:
In clear air, the Alps are visible from Munich. In the morning of October 18, 2012, Frank Sievers observed this superior mirage of the Alps from the roof of a house behind the Perlach heat and power station. It was probably caused by layers of air of different temperature generated by the power station, which refract the light at different angles to the observer´s eye.
When rain is falling with the setting sun behind it, there sometimes appears a golden or deep red glow in shape of a semicircle around the sun. Literature calls this glow “Zero Order Glow”. The name means that this glow is a zero order rainbow. This is because the light is not reflected within the raindrops once or twice, as it is the case in primary and secondary rainbows. In the case of a zero order glow, the light passes through the raindrops without being reflected, leaving them only a bit deviated. So there is no bow-shaped concentration of light, and the zero order glow appears in form of a diffuse shining area around the sun.
In normal cases, the phenomenon is visible only above the horizon. But when this photographs (2 -3) was taken, a fine drizzle fell into the valley from a very low layer of clouds, causing also a glow beneath the horizon. Due to the low sun elevation and the long way the sunlight had to travel through the atmosphere, together with the additional light diffraction on the small drizzle particles, there is only the red light visible.
Author: Claudia Hinz, Wendelstein (1835m), Germany
This red rainbow appeared while the sun was setting and persisted even some minutes after sunset. At that time it was rather dusky already, and the glowing tops of the distant Alps appeared rather unreal. A short time later, a red rainbow appeared, showing an intense red colour which in this intensity I had never seen before. It showed its maximum intensity about 5 minutes after the calculative sunset, but the sun had already sunk behind a mountain some time before. After only a few minutes, rainbow and afterglow faded away simultaneously. The picture is a panorama made of 4 portrait frames with the single frames slightly underexposed, but not processed. The pictures are taken at ISO 800, shutter time 1/40 sec, f/4,5, and a polarizer was used.
At such low sun elevations, all short waved colours of the light are scattered away on the long way through the atmosphere, leaving only the long waved red light behind. This red light reaches the observer´s eyes as alpenglow and as a red rainbow. As, due to their altitude, the clouds (in this case altocumulus in about 3.000 metres) receive sunlight even longer than the ground, in rare cases a rainbow can even be visible after sunset.
During the night from July 14 to July 15, 2012, Tilo Schroth could observe and photograph in northern Saxony, Germany this rare phenomenon: “Chasing aurorae from northern Saxony is full of surprises. You are burning the midnight oil in the middle of nowhere during nights which potentially might bring a touch of aurora, pressing the release from time to time, controlling the monitor display, and then looking up to the sky again. A shooting star here, a small satellite there…there is a lot to see during those nights. The same was it during the night between July 14 and July 15, when the solar wind was about to hit earth directly. We were three persons on the Liebschützberg range (except from some couples in love). We were just about to call it a day when a slowly increasing green loom appeared on our monitors. At that moment I still was connected to the Meteoros-forum, but a short while later the storage battery of my mobile phone showed empty.
My two friends and me on the hill were sure that this was a green aurora. So we were very excited. We were not connected to the forum any more, where somebody already had talked of “airglow”. Nevertheless, we were not disappointed when learning that our guess was wrong the next day.
What we saw – and could not really interpret – was really airglow. Appearing as a grey veil to the naked eye, our reflex cameras reveiled its real structures.”
“Airglow” is the name for a faint, lamellar glowing of the night sky which is induced by electromagnetic radiation. In normal cases, this diffuse glooming can hardly be perceived, but its brightness can be influenced by strong ionospherical activities. So airglow could not only in this case be seen in connection with solar wind and aurorae. The latter were visible over Germany also in this night, but just very faintly.
An interesting fact is the far southward extension of the airglow shown on a map made by Stefan Krause, which shows all observations. This is probably due to the fact that in Northern Europe it does not really get dark at this season. So parts of the atmosphere might get some sunlight which may intensify the airglow.
In the Meteoros-forum are more pictures from this rare phenomenon.
At sunrise during the transit of Venus on June 6, 2012, there were not only distortions of Sun and Venus visible as well as the Green Flash, but there were also several observations of the so called Etruscan Vase.
As weather forecasts for Germany´s sunniest island, Fehmarn in the Baltic Sea, were most favorable for that day, Jens Hackmann flew there from the bad weather of his home town Bad Mergentheim. Just after sunrise at 4.41 hours, he observed the mirage effects mentioned above not only on Sun and Venus, but also on a passing ship. And only a few moments later the Etruscan Vase phenomenon appeared, an upside-down mirage of the sun which appears in most cases above a water surface (more pics and film).
Thomas Stemmler photographed the transit of Venus at beach on the Baltic Sea near Dahme and could shot mirage effects and the phenomena of Etruscian vase also.
This strange effect is caused by the refraction of sunlight together with a lower mirage and appears when a layer of cold air is positioned over a warm water surface. The lowermost air layer, which is heated up by the warm water, has a lower refraction index than the air at the level of the eyes of the observer. Sunrays hitting this layer in a very sharp angle can be reflected totally. So the observer does not only see light coming directly from the sun, but also light that had been reflected by the warmer and less dense layer of air directly above the water. The rays coming directly from the sun let the sun appear totally normal. But as our brains are not programmed for totally reflected sunrays, they extrapolate them lineally. This makes us see an upside-down reflection of the sun beneath the real sun which changes due to the angle of incidence of the light and thus with the sun elevation.
This phenomenon reminded the science-fiction-author Jules Verne of a paunchy Etruscan Vase standing on a pedestal, so he coined this term for the phenomenon.