Breakdown: Why the sun & moon can have halos around it

Published: Dec. 5, 2021 at 11:41 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -You have likely seen it, a large ring or halo around the sun or moon. They are referred to as 22-degree halos, the specifics in the name is because the circle around the sun or moon is around 22 degrees.

There is an old expression that says a ring around the moon means rain soon. There is some truth because high cirrus clouds can arrive before storms. The sky can look mostly clear when halos are present because thin cirrus clouds are drifting 20,000 feet.

Cirrus clouds are composed of tiny ice crystals. The halos are caused by refraction or the splitting of light, and also by reflection of light from ice crystals. The crystals have to be oriented and positioned just right with respect to your eye, in order for the halo to appear. Everyone sees their own particular halo, made by their own particular ice crystals, which are different from the ice crystals making the halo of the person standing next to you. The person viewing the same halo will see it differently due to all the many ice crystals that refract and reflect light.

If you try to capture the halos in a photo, be careful. Pointing a camera directly at the unobscured sun can damage, the camera. In addition don’t look directly at the sun, even when it is visible through clouds.

Halos can occur anywhere on the planet during winter or summer. Their frequency depends on how often cirrus coverage occurs.

The moonlight gets its light from reflecting the suns light so it isn’t very bright. Halos around the moon are mostly colorless, but you might notice more red on the inside of the halo and more blue on the outside of the halo. These colors are more noticeable in halos around the sun. If you do see a halo around the moon or sun, notice that the inner edge is sharp, while the outer edge is more diffuse. You may also notice that the sky surrounding the halo is darker than the rest of the sky.

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