Sunday, December 8, 2013

Look to the Skies

This is the time of year when one could begin to question why sane people choose to live in Minnesota. As I drove to work this week I watched the temperature on my car thermometer drop to 2 below. And then something appeared that felt like compensation for stepping into the deep freeze. Before me was what looked like a rainbow! But there had certainly been no rain.  Later I heard this phenomenon identified as a sundog and in fact it is a phenomenon of light so seemed appropriate to share in this blog whose very focus is light. I learned that a sundog is an ice halo and what I had observed was only half of the larger image, there is one on each side of the sun. The following day I saw another sundog and this time knew to look for its mate.  They get their rather unusual name from their position as they are thought to "heel" at the side of their master. The scientific name "parhelia" means beside the sun. Sundogs occur when the sun is low and are made from light refracting from ice crystals during very cold weather. The crystals act as prisms and bend the light with a deflection of about 22 degrees. They can also form a halo around the sun.

(Image credit and copyright: David Hathaway/NASA/MSFC)
I was curious about whether there were any mentions of sundogs in the Bible as I would think such phenomenon would have been viewed as signs or omens at that time. Sure enough I found the following reference by meteorologist Freeman Hall to Ezekiel who saw them as visions of Elohim. He spoke of " two concentric wheels 'so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four' The record also tells of a throne above the shining vision, like a sapphire stone. Hall's meteorological explanation was that the eyes may have been mock suns arranged on concentric halos, and the throne the colorful arc that can appear as an upside down rainbow above the halo. When I sought out the original text which describes imagery in the sky, I found these descriptions which certainly sounded like sundog imagery:

1:27 And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it.... I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.

1:28 As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about...

As I searched for images I found some very complex ones that could easily have engendered the vision of which Ezekiel spoke.  The one above was taken in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

So surely such images inspired artwork.  Sure enough there is a painting originally based on an event in 1535 over Stockholm.  While the original painting by Urban mÃ¥lare is lost, here's a copy of the Vadersolstavlan from 1636 by Jacob Heinrich Elbfas.

So next time the temperature drops, look to the skies.

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