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a photograph of a sun dog, a bright spot in the sky showing the range of the spectrum
figure 1  

 

sun dogs. Parhelia, bright rainbow-like spots that appear on either side of the sun during certain atmospheric conditions.

Most sources about this optical atmospheric phenomenon say it is quite common.reference 1 Yet I find when I remark on the presence of one or more sun dogs, I usually get a blank look. Even when I point them out, many observers seem to find them difficult to see or understand. So, what are they? Sun dogs and halos appear when the sky has thin high cirrus clouds and are most usually visible near sunset.reference 2

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the apparently erroneous factoid that the sun dogs were so called because they were loyal like Ulysses dogs and followed the sun, as if on leashes. I cannot seem to find any reference to this, and am unlikely to do so, as Ulysses had only one dog, Argus. While this canine companion was indeed loyal (he was one of the few people to recognize the itinerant warrior upon his return), Argus stayed at home while his master went a roaming. Just as a footnote, when poor Argus saw Ulysses again, he was so shocked that he died on the spot.reference 3

1. Holladay, April. 2000. Wonderquest: Sun Dogs. USA Today, Dec 13. Accessed Sep 8 2001 from http:// www.usatoday.com/ weather/ science /wonderquest/ sundog121300.htm.

2. Cowley, Les. 2000. Parhelia (Sun Dogs). Atmospheric Optics. Accessed Sept 8 2001 from http:// www. sundog.clara.co.uk/ halo/ parhelia.htm.

3. Brewer, E. Cobham. 2000. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Bartlby.com. Accessed Sep 5 2001 from http:// www.bartleby.com/ 81/ 5138.html.
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About the illustration: To read this properly you need to add the sun a few inches off to the left. Photograph Kresge, Ralph. 2001. wea00149. Washington, D.C.: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. This image or file is a work of a NOAA employee, taken or made during the course of the person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain.
see also: moon dogs Last updated: March 20, 2008
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