Cosmic Canvas: Mock Suns Over England


By Charles F Blunt, 1845. Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty

Here's some cosmic canvas for your Monday: astronomical illustrator Charles F Blunt's 1845 painting of parhelia observed in England back in 1698. Parhelia are known by a number of names (such as sun dogs, mock suns and phantom suns) and they're the most frequent of the ice halos.

Parhelia are created by falling ice-crystals in the Earth's atmosphere. As these flat, six-sided ice crystals plummet, they tend to remain parallel to the ground. Gaze through their plane and the crystals act like little lenses, refracting sunlight and creating false suns to either side of the real sun. There may even be a half mock sun farther off, as illustrated in this image. Colors can also vary significantly.

They occur all over the world and have been documented throughout recorded history. The event illustrated by Blunt lasted a reported two hours. Here are some far more contemporary images:


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.