Mystery Sunset, Hawaii

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On June 28, 2006 Julie Deth-Rhoden Hutto was photographing the sunset from the Kona Coast of Hawaii with the hope of capturing a green flash, instead she saw this very odd sequence. "I was surprised to see the sun 'touch' the ocean in a unique fashion: the light started at the ocean and worked its way up to the sun, like a bright string. I've seen some great solar illusions, but this one was pretty cool and very different."   Image ©2006 Julie Hutto, shown with permission.

There is some evidence of atmospheric layering and the base of the sunset is weakly of the Etruscan vase or "Omega" type but that does not explain the obvious asymmetry in frames 1-3 and later in 6-8.
Odd shaped clouds can be ruled out because they would be visible or backlit in the early frames. Several explanations have been proposed by atmospheric optics experts. Andrew Young (site) has suggested that a weak convective vortex, a waterspout or funnel cloud, not strong enough to produce condensation and thus become visible could produce the necessary atmospheric refraction. He mentions also that vortices from aircraft have also produced distortions but says the duration and altitude of this event makes that explanation unlikely. Craig Bohren raises the possibility that atmospheric waves in the inversion layers might be responsible. Harald Edens (site) suggests that hot gases rising from the smokestack of a distant ship could produce the same refraction effect as an ocean vortex and it would not be such a rare occurrence. Julie says "Kailua-Kona is a major cruise ship stop on the Big Island... .. That day a cruise ship did drop anchor in the bay... I checked back through my image files for that day and found that it was the "Pride of America" cruise ship.   By the time I headed out that evening to do some sunset photography, it was nowhere in sight... it had obviously left for it's next port of call." Was it over the horizon but along the line of sight to the sun? And, of course, there might be other explanations...