Parhelic Circle with Sundogs

While enjoying the exhilarating views of the Great Smoky Mountains from the vantage of Andrew Bald’s grassy slopes, a narrow ribbon of color caught my eye just as the clouds were parting on the right side of the sun. I knew I didn’t have much time, so I refocused my attention on capturing my discovery through the lens of my camera, while trying not to blow-out the exposure by shooting into the sun.

right side

“Ooh, a rainbow,” I thought, “That’s cool.” I turned to the few hikers present, now relaxing after the trek down from Clingmans Dome.

“Did anyone else see the rainbow?” I asked around to no one in particular.

Their casual shrugs spoke volumes. Glancing back to the sky, I understood their ambivalence; the rainbow had already vanished.

After a snack and a brief respite, it was time to start up the mountain before darkness descended, but not without one last look as I was leaving the clearing. That’s when I noticed–if only for an instant–a reciprocal slice of color on the left side of the sun…

left side

…and then it was gone. Leah and I ascended the trail in sufficient time for photographing a glorious sunset over Clingmans Dome, and nothing more was considered, until it was time to construct the post, On Top of Old Smokey.

While putting my thoughts together with the TV running in the background, I became distracted by a local meteorologist from Charlotte, who was standing in front of a projected image submitted by a viewer that looked very similar to photographs I had recorded on Andrew Bald.

And then he replaced the image with this graphic:

parhelic graphic (2)

while giving a brief explanation of the earth science behind the phenomenon of a parhelic circle with flanking sundogs.

That’s when I realized I had captured something special…caused by sunlight refracting off tiny ice crystals in the atmosphere, and creating a larger halo around the sun.

I returned to the file to re-examine the photographs, and wondered–by chance, and given limited resources–if I could stitch the two views together using Windows Publisher to reproduce the full effect, even though the photographs of both sides of the sun were taken minutes apart from two different viewpoints and parallax.

While the technique is purely experimental, I believe the result comes very close to interpreting “what could have been” had the clouds not interfered with my “rainbows”…

parhelic circle with sundogs

…all of which makes for a more remarkable discovery, given the Great Smoky Mountain smoke.

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