Double Halo Around the Sun – Scientific Analysis

My last post featured all the remarkable photos by Joan Weist of a double halo around the sun seen in coastal Rhode Island a few weeks ago. One of those images is found below. My sister Susan was kind enough to forward the photos for scientific analysis to my cousin Michael, an atmospheric scientist. Here is what he said:

“I remember seeing the same optical effect in the sky in eastern Massachusetts that day.   This is called a halo, which always surrounds the sun, and it occurs when there are very thin, very high clouds in the sky (you can see these in the pictures too).  These high clouds are composed of small ice crystals, and in the right conditions (that is, when the ice crystals are of the same shape and are oriented the same way) the sun light is refracted (bent) by the crystals in such a way that the light is separated into its component colors.  The process is similar for a rainbow, which occurs near the ground, though rainbows occur when light is bent by liquid water droplets (rain) falling close to the ground.  Your photos actually show a double halo, with the second one fainter and farther from the sun than the brighter inner halo.  The double halo is much more uncommon, since the conditions needed to make one occur much less frequently.” (italics mine, PI)

Joanphoto 2

DaVinci would have appreciated this explanation, and marveled too, at Joan’s photos and the halos occurrence in nature.

My blogging efforts have diminished what with the advent of experiments and research in sacred art, delivering summer art workshops, gardening, and walks along the beach.

I wish all my readers the opportunity to take some time off and find a spot that they, too, can enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. Happy Summer!

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. PHOTO Copyright © 2013 Joan Weist All Rights Reserved


9 thoughts on “Double Halo Around the Sun – Scientific Analysis

  1. Just a couple of questions… if you don’t mind… is it possible for the double halo to be caused by reasons other than ice crystals? Would it be possible to see this occur some place hot, like Arizona during the summer?


  2. Just a couple of questions, if you don’t mind… it’s it possible for the double halo to be caused by something other than ice crystals? Is it possible for this to occur some place hot, like Phoenix AZ, during the summer?? Just curious…


    1. My understanding is that you need water molecules or ice crystals to be present at the right temperature and atmospheric level in order to obtain the double halo result. Certainly the atmosphere over southern Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts (where this double halo was seen) is different from Phoenix, yet, I would conclude that given the right atmospheric situation it could occur there, too (yet, the heat of this summer would probably make it very unlikely). I recommend that you check with the University of Arizona Meteorology or Atmospheric Sciences Department for local expert advice.
      Stay cool!


  3. There’s a similar solar phenomenon attrubuted to ice crystals known as “sun dogs” which can be seen to flank the sun. Jan van Eyck used this as part of the iconography in the Choir of Angels panel of the Ghent Altarpiece. The angels faces represent aspects of the sun’s journey from east to west. Two of the angels were twins in real life. The angel at the peak of the arc represents Joan of Arc. She also figures in the Just Judges panel of the altarpiece. The Choir of Angels panel also reveals Cardinal Henry Beaufort’s illegitimate daughter and her mother.


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