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  Sundogs & Sun Altitude

At 0° solar altitude, rays pass horizontally through plate crystals and parallel to their upper and lower basal faces. Some are deviated 22°, the minimum deviation angle for a 60° ice prism, to form the inner (sunward) edges of low sun parhelia.

At higher sun, rays must take skewed paths, inclined to the basal faces, to get through the crystal. No rays can enter and leave at the minimum deviation angle and the resulting parhelia are farther from the sun. Their distance increases as the sun climbs.

Skew rays mostly cannot pass through thin plates unless they are reflected between their upper and lower basal faces. Internal reflections may be needed even when the sun is only 10° high.

An even number of reflections are required. An odd number produces a sub-parhelion below the horizon.

Sundogs are at their brightest when the sun is low. At solar elevations much above 40° they are difficult to discern.

    a) Brian Hartmann    b) Michael Pierce
    c) Jim Kirk                d) Erkki Poikolainen

Sundogs are 22 degrees from the sun only at sunrise and sunset.

At left the sun is 11° high and the sundog is close to the 22° halo

At right the sun was higher at 34° and the sundog is farther from the sun than the 22° halo.