The Mongrel Dogs at Sea (11): Solar Sight

I experienced something today that I’ve heard a lot about but never quite believed in: the infamous green flash. I’d read that, sometimes, during sunsets, just at the moment the Sun sinks below the horizon, it flashes green. However, the conditions are hard to meet and the occurrence somewhat rare. Tonight as the Regal Princess continued steaming east-northeast, I happened to be out on deck during sunset. (I’ve been missing these because I’m slated for “first sitting” dinner and usually it wraps up just a few minutes too late. But today for whatever reason we were done and gone five minutes before rather than after sunset.) The sky was crystal-clear and, though there were some low-lying clouds, they hovered a bit above the horizon. Knowing these were the conditions for the semi-mythical flash, I dug out my camera and took continuous shots of the sunset.

Much to my amazement, I did in fact see the green flash.

It’s not so much a “flash”, really. The sky doesn’t light up green or anything. Rather, the Sun momentarily turns green. The change, from the usual red of sunset, is unmistakable, although the transformation lasts only a moment. Now I’m really interested in what causes this. I suspect it’s a refractory phenomenon having to do with the atmosphere – perhaps something about the color of the Sun’s limb compared to the bulk. I really did not think the story was true; now I have to understand it. It goes to show you that the world is always ready to throw a surprise at you when you think you know what’s going on.

Sadly, I didn’t get a picture of it. I had to choose between watching it on camera and watching it by eye. I was pretty sure that, if the effect was real, I’d still end up missing it in the camera. My camera is just too slow and awkward to capture an instantaneous elusive optical sprite. Also, although I love my digital camera, I’m beginning to worry that I am experience too many things through its mediation and missing out on the real events – as if preserving the memory of a thing was more important than actually experiencing it. If conditions are good again tomorrow or Wednesday, I’ll try to capture the flash, though I don’t have high hopes.

Seeing the flash speaks to me, though I’m not sure what it’s saying. It’s another chunk of life to throw in the broth that is my Convocation speech.