Sunday Science: Sundogs - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Sunday Science: Sundogs

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CABOT, Vt. -

"I ran to the window and wasn't even completely dressed and I just freaked out," says Vicki Tebbetts.

She remembers running down the hill from their Cabot home in 10 below weather towards a sunrise unlike any she'd seen before.

"It was there. Front and center it was there -- three of them. Symmetrical, lit up in the most eerie way," she says.

What looked like three suns was actually a phenomenon commonly known as a sundog. The brilliant sight resonated on an emotional level.

"Well, my mom had just passed away two days before and I did really feel like some meaning was attached to that, and that nature was sending me a message that everything was going to be okay," she says.

Her photo was seen and shared by thousands of you from our WCAX Facebook page that morning, with many of you sending us your own photos of the sundogs and others asking what they are and how they're formed.

"Ice crystals in the air act as prisms, so the sunlight comes in and bounces off and refracts through the ice crystal, and just like a prism, it makes that light go in a slightly different direction and gives us those sundogs and halos that we saw," explains National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Nash.

It isn't just a winter phenomenon. Nash says in the summer, high thin clouds also cause them. But on very cold days, the water vapor in the air turns to small ice crystals, known as diamond dust.

"We have these ice crystals close to the surface, just drifting in the air, and so it's the sunlight going through those small little ice crystals because it's so cold and giving us this affect," he says, "and that's why it looks so brilliant because from our eye it looks like it's so close to us."

And it isn't just the sun. Because any light source can create this phenomenon, some of our viewers send us photos of moondogs. Nash says also sometimes people mistake the halos for rainbows.

"Rainbows are always opposite of the sun, halos are around the sun," he says.

But if we keep getting these cold temperatures with diamond dust in the atmosphere, he says we'll probably see more of these sundogs.

One more thing Nash says you're going to want to think about if you want to look at a sundog, you are going to be staring at the sun, so you're going to want to make sure that you put your hand up to block out the sun. Then you can look at the sundogs and the halo more safely.

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