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Why Is There a Rainbow Around the Sun Today?

Sun Halo
Photo by Joanne Cruise

If you have a lot of friends in New Jersey on your Facebook, you’ve probably seen pictures similar to this one dozens of times today. Here at the Jersey shore, there’s a bright, vivid rainbow circling the Sun. Get ready for some science, here’s why…

The phenomenon is called a 22° halo. It’s caused by ice crystals high in the atmosphere. The Sun’s light refracts through the ice crystals and causes the rainbow effect that we see down here on the ground.

And what are those round, blue spots that a lot of people are pointing out? They’re called “Sun dogs” and are common when light refracts off of the ice crystals that are present during 22° halos.

It’s a pretty cool phenomenon. While it’s somewhat common, it definitely isn’t usually as vivid, bright, and large as we can see today.

So take your pictures, take a quick gander, but please keep one thing in mind – don’t stare!

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