Weather phenomenon called ‘sun dog’ seen over sky in Brownsville

A "sun dog" is seen in Brownsville on Dec. 18, 2023. (Courtesy: National Weather Service in Brownsville/Facebook)
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Brownsville residents were treated to an atmospheric phenomenon Monday that gives the illusion that there are two suns in the sky.

The phenomenon is called a “sun dog” or a “mock sun.” It is also known as “parhelia,” which means “with the sun.”

This occurs when sunlight is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere, resulting in colored spots appearing on either side — sometimes both sides — of the sun.

A photo shared in a Facebook post by the National Weather Service in Brownsville showed the evening sun in the sky through some high cirrus clouds, which are made of ice crystals. The left of the photo showed a small, green-colored spec of light mimicking the sun.

“It’s also considered a prism effect, like a rainbow,” National Weather Service Senior Forecaster Geoffrey Bogorad explained. “At a certain angle, if everything works right, sometimes you will see sun dogs on both sides of the sun. In this case, I guess the atmosphere was just conducive for the one on the left hand side of the picture that was taken.”

Bogorad said that these types of prism effects are more common when the angle of the sun is lower in the sky, primarily in the fall and winter months and early spring.

The forecaster said that the phenomenon is not rare, but also not very common. He said that anyone familiar with them can see them if they know when to look.

“We’ve seen them before. Even a whole, complete halo sometimes,” Bogorad said. “With a full moon, sometimes when we get these high clouds, they could have a halo that forms around the moon. That’s the same atmospheric phenomenon that we’re seeing.”