The Sky With Three Suns

A sun dog or sundog (scientific name parhelion, plural parhelia, for "beside the sun") is a bright circular spot on a solar halo. These are a common atmospheric optical phenomenon caused by refraction of sunlight by tiny 6 sided ice crystals making up cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. Often, two sun dogs can be seen (one on each side of the sun) simultaneously. They can be seen anyplace and anytime the air is clear enough. I see them here mostly on fairly clear winter days.

This first photo is a 2 frame panorama I took Feb. 8 with both sundogs showing. The sundogs are always 22 degrees either side of the sun when near the horizon, due to the geometry of the ice crystals that produce them.

Pan 57-57 875 Double Sundog Sunset Over Point Possession

This next photo shows only one parhelion (sundog) to the right, the other one had already gone behind the mountains. Often when there are clouds near the horizon the sundogs will be completely obscured. This time the added layer of moisture droplets from the low clouds further refracted the light and seemed to brighten it, muddling the colors some.

IMGP2069 Sundog Sunset

There are many references and interpretations to these phenomena in literature and folklore. My personal interpretation is twofold. The one side of me that made me be an engineer sees the physics of the light being bent and separated into specific visible wavelengths as it passes through the various prisms in the atmosphere.

The other side of me that likes to write poetry and contemplate the emotional side sees the parhelia as lovers, separated by a great distance, and attracted to the same life energy they belong to (the sun), which sadly also keeps them apart, perhaps forever. When I see them both, I feel their longing to be together. When I see just one, I know it is searching for the other. When they are absent, I wonder if perhaps they are together somewhere somehow. Maybe someday I will write about this as a poem.

The following is an excerpt from a gripping and life reflective short story of life and death on the Alaskan trail. It is typical of this famous writer, Jack London

From The Sun-Dog Trail, by Jack London;

"After a long time the stranger-man crawls no more. He stands
slowly upon his feet and rocks back and forth. Also does he take
off one mitten and wait with revolver in his hand, rocking back and
forth as he waits. His face is skin and bones and frozen black.
It is a hungry face. The eyes are deep-sunk in his head, and the
lips are snarling. The man and woman, too, get upon their feet and
they go toward him very slowly. And all about is the snow and the
silence. And in the sky are three suns, and all the air is
flashing with the dust of diamonds.

"And thus it was that I, Sitka Charley, saw the baby wolves make
their kill. No word is spoken. Only does the stranger-man snarl
with his hungry face. Also does he rock to and fro, his shoulders
drooping, his knees bent, and his legs wide apart so that he does
not fall down. The man and the woman stop maybe fifty feet away.
Their legs, too, are wide apart so that they do not fall down, and
their bodies rock to and fro. The stranger-man is very weak. His
arm shakes, so that when he shoots at the man his bullet strikes in
the snow. The man cannot take off his mitten. The stranger-man
shoots at him again, and this time the bullet goes by in the air.
Then the man takes the mitten in his teeth and pulls it off. But
his hand is frozen and he cannot hold the revolver, and it falls in
the snow. I look at the woman. Her mitten is off, and the big
Colt’s revolver is in her hand. Three times she shoot, quick, just
like that… “

Here is the link to this work in its entirety:


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17 Responses to The Sky With Three Suns

  1. Babblelot says:

    Thank you Steve for sharing this with us. Amazing pictures. So beautiful and rare for me to see this sort of thing. I liked the story too! Have an adventure this week my friend.

  2. Duckie says:

    How beautiful!!!! Thank you for sharing these photos and expalining the history. It is always a pleasure to visit this site. On my \’to do\’ list is to someday visit your lovely state.

  3. puzzle says:

    Beautiful pictures! "sundog" is a nice expression, I only knew them as "halos" – their spectrum of colours is arranged in opposite to the rainbow\’s.

  4. Pat says:

    Very nice mix of photos, art, and science!

  5. Kimmy says:

    A beautiful end to what looks like a beautiful day there in Alaska. I hope the rest of the week brings you as many wonderful photo ops. 🙂 Have a great week Steve!

  6. Rambling says:

    I am enchanted with the lore you presented with the pictures, my friend. More than I can express, as I want to find a different set of words to say how much I like the analogy as well as the pictures and no new words will come. YOu and your work are a joy.

  7. JoAnn says:

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos and a little bit of Jack London.

  8. Marilyn says:

    As always Steve your photos are breathtaking. I like the poetic side of your twofold interpretation. Being a romantic at heart I can relate very well to it and images of these two lovers is very vivid in my minds eye. Thank you for sharing this exert from Jack London\’s book. This one I have not read, but will make an effort to now. God bless you my friend.~Hugs~Marilyn~

  9. Sheila says:

    Thanks for sharing your awesome pictures.

  10. Polly says:

    Thank you for pointing me in the direction of the stories. I think I\’ve read about three suns in a story before, though I can\’t remember precisely where – it seemed like another world at the time. Your pictures make it look beautifully atmospheric. It\’s difficult to believe it could be so harsh. I hope you share your poem when you write it. have a good week. Polly.

  11. Sarah says:

    Such a romantic, you are, Steve………and what a wonderful heart that makes in you. Glad to see the post, to hear your words. Always like manna for my spirit……

  12. JaeElle says:

    I\’ve learned so much at your site, Steve. I\’ve never heard of a Sundog before. It\’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing this information and pictures with us. Thank you for the exerpt from Jack London, too. I enjoyed reading it.

  13. Suspended its work in this number says:

    hey,glad to stay here for a second minutes.

  14. Life's Like A Beach says:

    No doubt redoubt, amber & awesome, energy & fascination…always look forward to visiting your Window, reading your posts, visual beauties & mind inspiring. Thank you Steve. Have a wonderful weekend. Peace, footprints 🙂

  15. _ says:

    I am so glad I stopped in here today!! I love the way you explain the sundogs with photos, what a magical phenomen. How you say you would put it into poetry….would be me too. Yet, understanding what it is scientifically makes it even more marvelous. I am so in awe of nature in Alaska it must be jaw dropping daily.

  16. Cat says:

    sadly poetic thought about sundogs – and why are they called sundogs and not suncats or sunelephants or…?Jack London has always been one of my favorite authors since I was a child –

  17. J says:

    Dog gone good post Steve! j

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