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Heavenly halo lights up the Arctic

Ed Stockard

Atmospheric optics turn sunlight into a celestial display as seen from Summit Station in Greenland on Oct. 14. Ed Stockard, one of the workers at the federally funded research station, says the display includes a halo, sun dogs, an upper tangent arc and more. "My eyelashes froze together, and my cheeks were getting nipped pretty good," Stockard writes.


Is this heaven? No, it's Greenland — lit up by a dazzling display of refracted sunlight.

These pictures are from Ed Stockard, who's part of the team at Summit Station on the peak of the Greenland ice cap. The research facility, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, serves as an observation post for the complex interactions between the atmosphere and one of the world's biggest reservoirs of ice.

The station is also an observation post for sky phenomena ranging from the northern lights to sun halos. And judging by his Flickr photo gallery, Stockard is getting an eyeful this season.


But there's more than meets the eye: Over at the Atmospheric Optics website, Les Cowley points out 11 separate optical phenomena that are on display. The combination of halos, arcs, sun dogs and a sun pillar has earned Stockard's Arctic scene a place as the Optics Picture of the Day.

You don't have to live in the Arctic to see the sun's weird effects. In midnorthern latitudes, this time of year brings misty days, and even some days when ice crystals hang in the air. That's prime time for halos, sun bows and moon bows, fog bows and more. Cowley's website guides you through all the magic that the air can provide — and for still more examples of that magic at work, click on the links below.

Ed Stockard

Buildings at Greenland's Summit Station are silhouetted by the sun and atmospheric effects.

Ed Stockard / Les Cowley / AtOptics.co.uk

A chart from the Atmospheric Optics website catalogs 11 optical effects that can be seen in Ed Stockard's fisheye-camera view of the sun at Summit Station.

More about atmospheric optics:


Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered by email every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.