Sun Dogs & Mirages

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This beautiful sun dog was photographed during the intermission at Jay Aymar’s concert at Rock Island. These sun dogs or parhelia are a form of rainbow. Rainbows are formed when drops of rain act as prisms, sun dogs are formed when ice crystals reflect the sun. Rainbows usually signals the end of rain, while a sundog often means that rain, or snow is on the way. Sun dogs were interpreted in medieval times to be the sign of the trinity, a sign of great fortune.

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Throughout the evening, the silhouette of Michipicoten Island just at the horizon didn’t look quite right. As we left the concert at sunset, it appeared to be an anvil shape at the Island (unfortunately I only took a photo of the anvil shape, the entire island was distorted). The photograph revealed an interesting phenomenon had been happening.

There were two possibilities: a superior mirage or a fata morgana. Both occur because of a temperature inversion, where cold air lies close to the ground with warmer air above it. The cold air being denser than the warm air bends light towards the eyes of someone standing on the ground, changing how a distant object appears, floating above their actual position, or an object below the horizon can become visible. Distortion can also occur so that the object appears stretched and elevated, called towering. A fata morgana is a complex mirage. Distant objects are distorted as well as elongated vertically. A relatively flat shoreline may appear to have tall cliffs, columns, and pedestals; or in this case, Michipicoten Island appeared to have an anvil shape at the east end.

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