Three Dazzling Night Sky Effects

by Esther Iranyi April 08, 2023

sirius glowing with green light as a rainbow star when it is close to the horizon

Sirius Scintillation

This is my absolute favourite sight in the night sky! When Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is low on the horizon, its light has to pass through a thicker layer of Earth's atmosphere. This atmospheric layer can act like a prism, breaking the starlight into its constituent colors through a process called atmospheric dispersion.

As a result, Sirius may exhibit a twinkling effect, but at the same time it can also create a multi-coloured rainbow display. The star might appear to flash with hues of red, blue, pink or green creating a beautiful sight. This phenomenon is more pronounced when Sirius is near the horizon, and its light has to traverse a greater distance through the Earth's atmosphere.

The atmospheric conditions, including temperature and air turbulence, contribute to the vivid display of colors during this twinkling phenomenon. It's a stunning example of how the Earth's atmosphere can influence our perception of celestial objects.

Zodiacal light

Zodiacal light, also called false dawn, is a celestial phenomenon that appears in the night sky with a subtle, ethereal glow. This soft illumination, often likened to a triangular-shaped pillar of light, extends upwards from the horizon after sunset or before sunrise. While not as prominent as the Milky Way or other celestial bodies, the zodiacal light holds its own.

The phenomenon arises from sunlight scattering on microscopic dust particles that populate the plane of the solar system. These dust grains, remnants of comets and asteroids, are situated in the same orbital plane as the planets, forming what is known as the zodiacal cloud. When the Sun is below the horizon, the zodiacal light becomes visible as sunlight scatters off these interplanetary dust particles.

Best observed in locations with no light pollution and under clear, dark skies, the zodiacal light is often most striking during certain times of the year. The spring and fall equinoxes are particularly favorable for its observation, as the ecliptic—the apparent path of the Sun across the sky—makes a steep angle with the horizon during these seasons.

To the casual observer, the zodiacal light may appear as a faint, diffuse band of light stretching upward from the horizon, meeting the darker sky overhead. While not as renowned as some other night sky phenomena, it is a subtle effect.

Lunar Halo

A lunar halo is an optical phenomenon that occurs when the Moon's light is refracted, or bent, by ice crystals present in the Earth's atmosphere.

These ice crystals are typically found in high-altitude cirrus clouds. The hexagonal shape of these ice crystals causes the Moon's light to refract at a specific angle, creating the appearance of a luminous ring around the Moon. The process is similar to how a rainbow is formed when sunlight is refracted through raindrops.

The size and brightness of a lunar halo can vary depending on the size and orientation of the ice crystals in the atmosphere. Sometimes, the halo is a complete circle around the Moon, while at other times, it might appear as a partial ring.

Witnessing a lunar halo can be an awesome experience, adding a magical quality to the night sky. It's a beautiful example of how atmospheric conditions and the interplay of light with natural elements can create stunning visual phenomena.




Esther Iranyi
Esther Iranyi

Author



Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in Blog

glow in the dark stars
A Parents Guide to Bedtime Victory

by Esther Iranyi January 25, 2024

Read More

monsters under the bed? glow in the dark stars!
Banish the MONSTERS!!!

by Esther Iranyi January 24, 2024

Read More

Free Constellation Guide

by Esther Iranyi January 18, 2024

Read More