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What Causes a Ring Around the Sun?

Updated on December 11, 2012
ring around the sun
ring around the sun | Source

I saw a ring around the sun.

Luckily, the people with me at the time were scientist-types and were able to explain to me what causes it.

It was really quite amazing to witness, and lasted for about half an hour.

The sky was a hazy blue, and the sun appeared to have a rainbow all the way round it. Luckily, I had my camera with me and was able to snap a couple of shots of it.

I found out later I could have damaged my camera by pointing the lens straight at the sun, but I got away with it this time, presumably because the sun itself was slightly 'hazed out' by the thin covering of high white cloud which was barely noticeable in the sky.

Taking the photo wasn't that easy either, as I had to guess where the ring was and just point the camera in the general direction.

This is the best of the bunch, and I like the seagull flying in the distance.

halo around sun, with photograph slightly off angle
halo around sun, with photograph slightly off angle | Source

So, what causes a ring around the sun?

Here comes the technical bit.

The high thin clouds we barely noticed are called cirrus clouds, and those clouds are made up of millions of tiny ice crystals.

Cirrus clouds are very high clouds, actually forming in the troposphere, 3 - 6 miles above Earth, where the temperature hovers around minus 30° to minus 35°C (-31°F).

The crystals are miniature prisms that reflect and spread white light into the colors that make up white light, which are all the colors of the rainbow.

The sun refracts through those crystals which are hexagonal in shape, with most of the refracted light heading back towards the sun, but with a substantial amount heading towards us on the ground.

Hexagons are six-sided shapes, and the light is deflected not once, but twice as it hits off different angles on the prism.

Light cannot be refracted at angles less than 22°, and this is what forms the circle, all of it being exactly 22° from the sun.

For this reason, rings round the sun are often referred to as 22° halos.

What does a ring around the sun mean?

It's generally accepted to be a harbinger of rain.

The presence of those cirrus or cirrostratus clouds generally means a warm front is moving in, bringing with it precipitation.

More than just an old wives tale, a halo round both the sun and moon really does mean rain is coming, according to meteorologists, and it is nice to get a warning of these things now and then.

Did the rain come?

Not for a while after. It stayed mostly sunny and dry for the next 4 hours, but the wind gradually rose.

I sat and watched the fishing boats scurrying into the shelter of the harbour. No doubt they listened to the warnings showing up on their radars or perhaps the shipping forecast.

I had a washing out to dry on the line, thinking to myself what a grand day it was for drying clothes, with the wind and the sun, even though the wind was rising still.

About half an hour afterwards the rain started, and the wind rose to storm force, and the rain was relentless all night.

This just goes to prove that a ring round the sun is indeed a warning of rain to come, even though I'd just expected a shower and not a storm.

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    • profile image

      Cyrus 

      3 years ago

      Dear sir respected sir as i caantct before iwant to make more information for you about me iam Abdihakin mohamed muse iam one of the student in camp refugee of sheder(eastern Ethiopia)iam flea from the civil war existed in somalia my age is 18 there is difucult sitution for me becouse of what? I orphan my father died in somalia 2006 and my family are poor and my mother doestnt afford to paid school fees or universal fees in this time iam the oldest child in my family we are 9 children others are smaller than me and my mother confused how to adminstring that family with difucult sitution if i continue my problem it is very difucult for me to live in this camp becouse sometimes ifeel illness when i chacked my health the doctors answered that you are good but you cant adapt the climate of this camp so we are advised to change this climate so that one my greatest problem that i my self confused so iam requesting schlorship in abroad and that one of my problem and iam requested sclorship agensy to suport for me how to manage with my vulnerable family and also in my future. I my self ilike education and iwant to gratuate up to university i realy want to study in canada,usa,finlandorother europe.And ihave good result from begining of my school up to now in my grade 10 igot national exam of ethiopia 85% my grade 11 igot 86% and ihope in my grade 12 much better result. So iam requesting again and again to supor me how to suport my youngerchildren icant conclude my problem so iam requesting again and again to give me sclorship apportunity as a kindly and brotherwoodly if you supor me God will suport you so response us much as posible.. By and good lucky yours Sincerly.

    • profile image

      Dina 

      3 years ago

      Thank you for the thoughtful commnet!You are correct, scholarships are offered year-round and it is best for a student to apply for scholarships throughout the year. That's how I paid for my education!However, in my experience, it is much easier to get students to focus on scholarships during a specific time frame than it is to motivate a student to apply consistently year-round. My goal is to get students to apply for as many scholarships as they can, but it's going to take motivation and, frankly, some baby steps to get them there. Applying for scholarships is a lot of hard work and not everyone can just dive right in head first.As for the opt-out suggestion, that's a great one! Caution though, depending on the site and their terms of use, opting out may not be as easy as clicking a button. To be safe, I like to just keep my scholarship email separate from my personal email.

    • Isabel Melville profile imageAUTHOR

      Isabel Melville 

      6 years ago from Planet Earth

      Apparently it's quite common. I have seen rings round the moon before but never the sun! Thanks for commenting :)

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Voted useful and interesting. I never knew about this, so thanks for enlightening me.

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