Category Archives: ice phenomena

Light refraction in a sunshine recorder

Only at very rare occasions, light refraction can be seen as impressive as in this example. The photo was taken by Hermann Scheer at the Meteorological Observatory on Mt. Hoher Sonnblick (3105m) in the Hohe Tauern mountains in Austria. A layer of ice and rime had formed on the glass sphere of the Campbell Stokes sunshine recorder. This layer split the sunlight up into its spectral colours. That is how impressive physics can be.

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

Sodalite interference colours

Sodalite – sodium aluminium silicate chloride – is a mineral of volcanic origin (chemical formula: Na8Al6Si6O24Cl2) and it comes from hydrothermal fluids in a volcanic rock’s cavity. The sodalite containing rock itself is not homogenous but consists of many different, small minerals beside the blue sodalite.

The mineral itself is very nice deep royal blue in general, the piece illustrating this article was mined at Mt. Vesuvius and bought in a mineral shop in Italy. The sodalite pieces are full of other crystals, usually well visible whitish veins which mostly consist of calcite.

When looking at the mineral with the help of some magnifying device we can see small parts of it having thin and colourful layers! These coloured parts are concentrated at the edges of the calcite veins or patches and only visible in a magnified form. Here, the translucent calcite was built on the blue sodalite mineral in a later process different from the forming of the blue crystals from the original hydrothermal solution. These places must also contain a very thin layer of air which is responsible for the colours with its interference.

What is unknown: the forming of the air layers. Are they originally there or are they created when the stone is cut from the rocks? I think the later is more possible as the sodalite rocks can more easily break where the white veins run, so the chopping of the rock might create the gaps, resulting interference patterns. The process might be the same as the ice pieces with fissures showing interference colouration too.

The pictures (123) were taken with a cheap digital microscope, the magnificiation which shows the interference colours is 200X. Smaller magnification also shows it but only in tiny coloured spots.

Author: Mónika Landy-Gyebnár, Hungary

More posts to this topic:

Hair Ice

Hair ice (in German Haareis) is formed at dead wood by conditions of high humidity and temperatures near freezing point. Water in the pores expands below 4°C and freezes on the surface. In this way fine ice needles were created. (1-2-3)

I found it in the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) in southern Germany.

Author: Helga Schöps, Germany

Colours inside a cracked piece of ice

After some very cold days in Heréd (Northern Hungary) Karoly Viczian went out to the garden to break the ice in a rainwater collecting barrel. On a small piece of ice he cut out from the barrel he could see some very vivid colours – it reminds me to the diffraction colours of an opal gemstone. So maybe the coloures were produced by some microscopic bubbles inside the ice just the same way as they form in the gemstone that has small spherical structure . But Károly said he had noticed the colours after breaking up the ice, so it seems that the small cracks inside might have produced them with the help of birefringence.

As Károly told me the ice was the outcome of multiple freezing and melting periods, so it might also have separate layers inside. He has more pictures of the same piece of ice. The water was simple rainwater, only some fallen walnut leaves were at the bottom of the barrel, nothing was put in it willingly.
What is the correct explanation of this phenomena?

Posted by Noli

Shadows on ice crystals

During the cold spell in the middle of January, some of us in Hungary started “experimenting” with snow crystals. As surface halos had been observed for several consecutive days (see the images of the odd radius surface halos by Ákos Ujj: 1 – 2 ), our basic idea was to find out whether we would see the trace of the 22 degree halo if we simply threw up the snow crystals covering the ground. Interestingly, the answer was yes. It was really exciting to observe that 22° from the sun, the crystals were glittering in spectral colours, and they faintly drew the form of the halo. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky with photographing the effect. All I could capture was the streetlamp casting its shadow on the crystals thrown and kicked in the air by Alexandra Farkas.

In the evening, however, Károly Vicián was much more successful. He had similar methods, but with longer exposure time, he did not only manage to photograph the shadow of the broom that was used to cover the spotlight, but the halo thus forming, too.

Posted by Ágnes Kiricsi

Frost Optics

2008/02/10 Taken in Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA at temperature of -10 F. I looked out to see the sunrise refracting through frost crystals on our back window. The entire pane sparkled with these delicate, miniature creations, but only a few of them were postitioned so that I could see the entire color spectrum at once.

Author:  Peg Zenko, Wisconsin, USA

Diamond-dust Sundog

This very bright “localized” sundog was formed in ice fog among trees along the Bow River in Calgary on a very cold winter day recently. The remarkable feature of this sundog is that trees are profiled against it. The equivalent sundog on the opposite side of the Sun was almost as bright. These sundogs varied in brightness as ice-fog density varied. Individual ice crystals show up as transient bright points.

Author: Alan Clark, Canada

Icy window corona

At the beginning of this winter season at a cold morning – dark outside – with a thin layer of hoarfrost on the inner side of the bus windows I’ve noticed that the light of the street lamps’ light was not simply scattered on the windows, but having colorful corona around them. At that time I had no camera with me… All along the winter I was waiting for the same display each morning when some ice was on the bus windows, but for long weeks I haven’t met with such spectacular phenomena again.This day was my day on 24th January. Very thin layer of frost was on the inner part of the windows, (with some frost ferns too by the corner of the window frame), mainly this layer was made of small uniform ice crystals made of frozen vapor droplets, we might call it an ice film, it was about 0,1 mm thin.All the lamps outside had a corona, no matter how far the lamp was.The street lamps with white light had the most beautiful color range, the orange colored light of sodium vapor lamps had a less distinct colors and they were a bit moved towards the reds. Not only the street lamps’ corona was seen on the ice layer, but a much less spectacular corona around the reflection of the inner lamps of the bus too! At the part of the frost ferns pattern the corona became irregular in shape. When the lamp was near the window I could also see the bigger outer rings of the corona. Almost the same phenomena appears when simple water vapour is on the windows, but that one is really less poor in colors compared to the ice film corona.This was the first time when I could take photos of a corona produced by ice crystals. It’s a pity, I could not take close-up photo of the ice layer itself (the bus was driving me to work so it was permanently moving).

Photos are collected here: The only afterwork was some noise reduction and size reduction. It was totally dark outside, so the pics were taken with ISO200 – ISO400; aperture F4 – F5,6; exp. 1/15 – 1/25 sec. auto white balance; without tripod or any kind of help to avoid moving.I wonder if the same phenomena would appear if the outer side of the windows would have a layer of hoarfrost on it. It’s only weather’s turn to show it up!

Author: Monika Landy-Gyebnar, Veszprem, Hungary

“Subsun” upon ice crystal

While taking the photographs of the iridescent fissures in the ice, I noticed some beautiful ice crystal structures on one of the puddles. When I looked at them more closely, I saw intensive reflections of the sun in them. Animated by the hoar-frost halo I discovered before, I got the idea to photograph the reflection of the sun as a kind of “subsun”. To get the reflection completely into the picture, it was necessary to make a macro of the ice crystal. However, the crystal turned out ot be a lot more complex than I thought.

The reflection of the sun, however, was not a homogenuous surface, but appeared to be a slightly oval shaped, speckled white spot with a broad golden and also speckled rim. It is exactly this reddish-golden rim that gives me quite a headache, reminding me a lot of the reddish coloured fringes which sometimes can be seen at other haloes like parhelic circle or 120°-sundogs. The sequence of colours and the outward manifestation is that of a common aureole. However, in this picture it looks as if the colour came out of the inside of the ice crystals. Especially take a close look at the crystals marked with arrows.

About one week later at another frozen puddle, the reflection of the sun again had a reddish rim. But here the situation is quite different. This time it is a fragment of the frozen water surface. The wind has carried dust upon the ice which with the help of the sun had smolten innumerable tiny holes into the surface which originally had been smooth. Low temperatures then had made it freeze again. All in all, these processes have caused a rather permeable surface structure to develop, so the reflection of the sun is more like a diffraction. Especially in its upper part, there is an indication of iridescence. Who knows, on day somebody might succeed in taking photographs of “ice surface coronae”!

Last but not least: Of course you can also try to take a fragment of ice off a puddle and make some experiments with it. Maybe there will be confirmations of these sightings pointing also out to the possibility of a (additional) light refraction in the red rim.

Author: Reinhard Nitze, Barsinghausen, Germany


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