News / Ottawa

Vibrant sundog 'rainbow' delights Ottawa photographers

A particularly bright display Tuesday morning showed the sun surrounded by “mock suns” and a bright halo.

A photo of Tuesday morning's sun dog taken by Barbara Havrot (barbarahavrotphotography.com) outside Cairine Wilson Secondary School in Ottawa's east end.

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A photo of Tuesday morning's sun dog taken by Barbara Havrot (barbarahavrotphotography.com) outside Cairine Wilson Secondary School in Ottawa's east end.

Ottawa residents looking up on Tuesday morning were treated to an unusual weather display: a very bright sundog – or “phantom sun” – that lit up the sky.

Sundogs, also known as parhelia, look a bit like a winter rainbow. They only appear in very cold weather, according to David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada.

“It’s really a textbook example,” he said, adding that clear conditions on Tuesday morning made the ‘dogs especially vibrant.

Parhelia appear when sunlight interacts with ice crystals high in the atmosphere, creating two “mock suns” and a faint halo.

“Sometimes they were regarded as a forewarning of troubled times: a harbinger of foul weather. So there’s some folklore that goes with them as well,” Phillips said.

On Tuesday, the sight didn’t generate any worry or fear about bad omens – just excitement from local photographers.

“I’ve seen sundogs before but never to that extent,” said Barbara Havrot, a math teacher and hobby photographer who managed to snap an early-morning photo.

“This was a complete arch, like a huge rainbow, in all its glory,” she said.

A second photo of the sun dog taken at sunrise by Trillium Elementary School teacher Danielle Richardson in Ottawa's east end.

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A second photo of the sun dog taken at sunrise by Trillium Elementary School teacher Danielle Richardson in Ottawa's east end.

If you missed the sundog this time don’t worry – Phillips said they are usually visible in Ottawa around 10 to 12 times per year.

“It’s one of nature’s art shows,” he said. “I think if people looked out and up a little bit more they’d find a lot of mysteries and speculator artwork going on in the sky.”