December 31, 2010 by: Ann Harwood
Montana Bed and Breakfast Sun Dogs
When a phenomenon is not produced by humans, it is natural. Natural is beautiful & many times remarkable. Here in the Mission Mountains of Montana, we experience some major phenomena in all seasons of the year!
I was driving on a road near Bear Spirit Lodge B&B and looked in the distance toward the west. Right over the National Bison Range was a phenomenon in the sky which was not far from the sun. Curious to know what it was, I showed my picture to Great Bear, the co-owner of Bear Spirit Lodge, and asked her if she knew what it was. She said it is a sun dog and that her Cherokee grandmother used to say, “If you see a sun dog, you're in for a long, cold winter.”
Seems that she really knew something! Here in the northern latitudes, on particularly cold days, an unusual glow of light can be seen by the sun. Some say it is shaped like a dog leaping through the flames and is known as a sun dog. In native folklore it is said that if you spot a sun dog while on a journey you will experience good luck and many rewards. That is a good prediction for the New Year in 2011.
Sun dogs are among the most commonly seen sky phenomena, appearing most prominently when the sun is low. Scientifically, a sun dog (scientific name parhelion from the Greek word meaning “beside the sun”) is an atmospheric phenomenon that creates bright spots of light in the sky, often on a luminous ring or halo on either side of the sun. The poet Aratus (Phaenomena 880-891) mentions parhelia as part of his catalogue of Weather Signs; for him, they can indicate rain, wind, or an approaching storm.
A sun dog is a rainbow-like spot in a cirrus cloud. Light shining through ice crystals in the cloud makes a sundog, much like light shining through raindrops makes a rainbow. "They are reddish on the side facing the sun and often have bluish-white tails stretching horizontally away from them," say David Lynch and William Livingston in Color and Light in Nature.
Cirrus clouds--those high fleecy white bands or patches in the sky--are mostly tiny particles of ice. Ice can take on many forms and shapes. The cloud ice, however, is shaped like hex bathroom tiles or stubby pencils each no bigger than the tiniest grains of sand. These ice crystals bend light like a prism, disperse its colors, and cause sun dogs.
When the crystals line up like tiles on a table, the light shining through makes sun dogs. The horizontal crystals bend the light 22 degrees, say Lynch and Livingston, as the light enters and exits the crystal. Light colors fan out from the bending and display as a sun dog.
Since the sun dog was over the National Bison Range, I think that Native American legend is always meaningful to integrate with the scientific. It is said that “when the White Buffalo arrives, the Warriors of the Rainbow will seek new ways of understanding themselves and others. They will begin to learn and teach, leading by example of how to walk in balance with one another. When the Sun Dog appears in the form of a whirling rainbow, it is for those who are spiritually ready to see.” May you have good luck and many rewards for the New Year 2011.