The surreal sight of a full solar eclipse got us thinking about the galactic awesomeness our solar system. An eclipse is just one crazy occurrence related to that big ball of fire in the sky. The sun stirs up plenty of other phenomena. You just need to know what you’re looking for.
Here are four more that you ought to know about.
Aurora: Appearing as a glowing “curtain” of light, a solar aurora is formed in by an interesting interplay between the sun and our planet. As particles from the sun blow off in solar wind movement these solar bits illuminate in the atmosphere. Auroras are typically more visible in regions at high latitude and may become more noticeable during a “magnetic” storm.
Flare: Occasionally electromagnetic radiation energy explodes on the surface of the sun. It’s hard to imagine the power of these blasts: Try to picture a million hydrogen bombs blowing up all at once! These massive bursts, called solar flares, appear to humans as bright flashes on the sun. Flares range in magnitude, too. Some are almost undetectable while others are so big that they trigger worldwide radio blackouts.
Halo: Fittingly, a solar halo looks like a white ring around the sun. This effect occurs when sun’s light tries to pass through cirrus clouds filled with ice crystals. As the light refracts at a particular angular degree, humans can see the halo. One of the most commonly observed halo variations, especially when the sun is close to the horizon, is the “sundog.” This halo looks like a pair of bright spots, which only show up when ice crystals embedded in clouds align vertically. The section of the sundog closest to the sun can look red, while areas further away from the sun might appear blue or green.
Pillar: Those cool ice crystals are also responsible for another solar phenomena called a pillar. What resembles a pillar of light is actually an occurrence created by the sun’s rays reflecting off of ice crystals into the atmosphere. A great place and time to see a solar pillar is at Niagara Falls in the winter, when sunlight reflects off water particles changing into ice.