The days are getting longer …
SUMMIT COUNTY — With the winter solstice already more than a month behind us, the sun is starting rise a bit earlier. Right now, it comes up about the time I’m fixing breakfast for my son and getting him off the school, so I haven’t made it out for the first blush of dawn color. But Friday, after dropping him off at the middle school, I took the dogs for a wander and when we got down to the corner of Lagoon there was sundog shimmering in the distance, a refraction of sunlight in the layer of icy fog pushed down close to the surface of Dillon Reservoir by a strong inversion.
I set off toward it, realizing that I could never catch it — it’s just like a rainbow. As you move, it moves with you, but I thought of the Jack London short story, The Sundog Trail.
Scientists, of course, have their own name for the this atmospheric phenomenon. They call it a parhelion and explain that the frozen crystals bend the sun’s rays with a minimum deflection of 22 degrees. If the crystals are randomly oriented and the sun is high enough in the sky, observers can see an entire ring, sometimes called a halo.
But in many cases, like Friday morning in the wetlands, the ice crystals take on a vertical alignment, refracting the sunlight horizontally — thus the position of the sundog, low to the ground, looking like the base of a truncated rainbow.
Some of the earliest scientific references to sundogs came from Aristotle, who, in a treatise on meteorology, commented that the false suns always appear beside, and never above or below the sun.
Shakespeare and Nabokov referenced sundogs, and if classical literature isn’t your thing, Rush included sundogs in the 1989 song Chain Lighting, on the Presto album, possibly because lyricist Neil Peart is self-described weather fanatic.