Sun dogs and solar pillars

By Verified Expert

It was twenty years ago now. I stood at the cold window, transfixed by a strange cloud, the likes of which I had never before seen.

A filmy curtain of white in the pastel winter sky, painted by an invisible brushstroke, the cloud was streaked with rainbow colors like the iridescent reflections in an oily film.

What on Earth was I looking at? I wondered.

This distracting vision of a rare nacreous cloud over Edinburgh was my first unforgettable experience of the strange wonders of a frozen sky. But not my last.

Unaccustomed as my Antipodean eyes are to the magical tricks of icy climes, I am endlessly entranced by their rare optical magic, of which there are so many fantastic varieties.

Take last week. I stepped out into the low midday sunshine, snow crunching underfoot, and was almost blinded by the thousands of ice crystals skittering through the air around me. But in the glare, something caught my eye.

Holding my hand up against the sun’s brilliant orb, I could make out a broad yellow halo. And mirrored in the halo, one on each side of the sun, was a shimmering ball of rainbow-colored light. Sun dogs.

And last winter, this solar pillar. I stood on the balcony in the late afternoon, soaking in the deep orange light over the still water. And I had a strange realization that the setting sun was somehow rising, growing, and climbing above the sunset.

The pillar of orange light was like a reflection, but instead of spreading toward me across the water, it was climbing like a beam, up and up into the darkening sky.

This kind of magic doesn’t happen all the time. But fortunately, there is plenty of everyday magic too. Walking to work on a spring morning, the wind behind me weaves strange snake-like swirls of snow about my feet or whisks them up into miniature snowy funnels that, like apparitions, wind through the air and then vanish in a puff of twinkling light.

The yellow sunlight bursting low through the morning air ignites them into a million glittering points of light swirling around me. I stand alone on the street, grinning with joy, a living, breathing creature in my own snow globe.

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