What’s a “sun dog”?

A "sun dog" over Nome

During sunrise on a recent morning, a “sun dog” – the partial halo of light around the disc of the sun – was particularly glorious over downtown Nome. Photo by David Dodman.

The bitterly cold temperatures are lingering, but there is more daylight to enjoy. Last week, we experienced a remarkable atmospheric phenomenon: bright, colorful spots of light on either side of the sun, observed as the sun sat low on the horizon. The scientific name is parhelion, but here in Alaska we call them “sun dogs.”

This unique light show is caused by light passing through plate-shaped hexagonal ice crystals during very cold weather. The crystals act as prisms, bending the light rays (as the crystals sink through the air, they are vertically aligned, and sunlight is refracted horizontally); this creates the colorful, “phantom sun” or sun dog.

Meanwhile, exceptional things are happening on the ground, too. Our brave construction crew is battling extreme temperatures as they tilt up walls at KNOM’s Tom and Florence Busch Digital Studios. Please pray for their health and safety.