Today, a bizarre-looking phenomenon showed up in the Sarasota sky. Frankly, I’ve never seen it before, so when I snagged a photo and shared it on Facebook, I added the remark:
I’m pretty sure if I were an Old Testament prophet I’d be freaked out about this…
Turns out… it’s not a “real” ring at all. The phenomenon is known as a “Halo” and has a very natural, scientific explanation. (A bit of a let-down, I know.)
What Causes the Ring Around the Sun
My first thought was that this must be related to a cloud formation. A quick search online revealed that it is, in fact, caused by ice crystals suspended within cirrus clouds. Apparently, we’re seeing the most common form of halo: the 22-degree halo. This means that the light passing through the ice crystals (which are hexagonal in shape) is deviated by exactly 22°.
Since the light is being reflected by millions of tiny crystals, and the light reflection is always exactly 22°, you’ll see a perfect circle no matter what angle you look from. This is why all of the photos showing up on Facebook today from Sarasota people all show the same shape! (Otherwise, some of the photos taken from different angles would show an oval or oblong shape instead).
A word to the wise: as cool as this thing is… don’t look at it. I’m sure today doctors throughout Sarasota will be seeing people for headaches, floaters, retinal burns and other problems from staring up. (It’s hard to resist, I know.)
Instead… just point your camera up and take a look at the photos. Or just load up your Facebook feed to see all the interesting comments about it! From what I can tell, the ring around the sun is visible from quite a bit of Florida. We’re getting visits here today from all over Southwest Florida, from Tampa and as far away as Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. It’s hard to be certain of exactly how widely visible this halo is, but quite a few people are curious about it today!
What About Venus?
Some folks are asking about the 2012 transit of Venus. It’s a coincidence that Venus is passing in front of the sun. Actually, tomorrow is the best time to see Venus blocking 1/32 of the sun. But… here again, follow NASA’s recommendations and view it safely!