Icebow over Broida

My friend wandered into my office on Friday.  Wandered is too purposeful a word.  He meandered confusedly into my office and asked “Where’s the Sun?”  Now, the two of us are theorists (and take quite a bit of guff for it from our colleagues), but this was a new low.  It’s fine to say “I don’t know what constellation that is.” or “I think that’s a planet, but I’m not sure which one.” but to have to ask where the  Sun is, the BRIGHTEST OBJECT IN THE SKY, then maybe you’ve spent too much time inside.  If it’s light outside, look up; if it’s dark, you can’t see it.  Pretty simple.  After a few seconds another friend came through and told me to come out and look at the sun.

Every cereal box I’ve read has told me to not look directly at the sun.  And by every cereal box, I mean the one 15 years ago that had information about outer space on the back and a temporary tattoo of Jupiter inside.  Oh yeah, and survival instinct makes me shut my eyes when it’s too bright out.  There’s a reason I’m always wearing sunglasses and it’s not because I am an international woman of mystery.  I am an international woman of mystery, but that’s not why I wear the sunglasses.

Anyway, I followed the merry band of astrophysicists outside, promptly shut my eyes and then went back in to get my sunglasses.  After returning to the small crowd, who had managed to locate the sun by then, I was amazed to see this perfect rainbow all the way around.  All rainbows are circular, but usually you can only see half or less of them.  This one was a full circle – right around the sun.  I hid under the overhang to take a picture with my phone.

Icebow over Broida.

It was beautiful.  Three distint stripes of red, yellow, and green.  I guess by the time it got to blue, there was not enough contrast against the brilliant blue of the sky.  And it was a brilliant blue.  It was a lighter than it seems in my picture, but it was beautiful.  It had been such a gloomy day up until then – a June Gloom day.  The clouds had lifted and become (or always were, I’m not sure) cirrus clouds – small little ice crystals high up in the atmosphere.  The light from the sun was refracting off of the ice at just the right angle so as to give us this sunny-day icebow.  It’s especially funny to think of it as an icebow in june in Southern California, but that’s what it is.  Nothing more than a giant hydrogen-fusing ball of gas, and an insanely complex atmospheric system.  I decided to try for the whole ring:


My phone camera couldn’t get the whole ring, but it could capture the sun and the ring together.  It’s still pretty amazing.  We watched for a while, blocking the sun with out hands, or standing under the overhang and having it do the blocking for us.

Icebow with trees.

After a while, it started to dissipate on the westerly side – no longer a perfect circle, the winds had pulled the clouds apart and the western part of the ring was drifting off into oblivion.  It was noon on Friday, so we eventually dispersed back to our offices, stopping people on the way, asking if they had seen it.  None of us really knew what we had seen – the explanation came from a post doc later in the afternoon – but for a short time, we had returned to our scientific roots.  We observed a phenomenon, thrown out ideas trying to explain it, then asked someone smarter what had happened.

The Sun and the Icebow.

I felt special for having seen this icebow at all.  For the rest of Friday afternoon, I kept thinking how nice it was to have rainbows and not even need rain to go with them.  Then it rained all weekend.


~ by Genevieve on June 6, 2011.

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