First-Alert Weather In-Depth: Do not be fooled by the mock sun
Meteorological optics or special visual effects in the atmosphere can really be an amazing thing to see. First, because it can be a rare event, but secondly, it may fool you and create a false impression of what is actually happening in the sky.
We think we have an opportunity over the next couple of days to see what is called a “sundog” or a “mock sun.” Naturally, we need a special set of ingredients for this to happen. In this case, a very low sun angle and high-altitude cirrus clouds are required. If you use your imagination the visual effect for this is the sun right in the middle, but on either side we find two bright spots that appear to be separate lobes of the sun. Consequently, it appears to be three bright spots, but only the center one is actually the sun. On occasion, we may observe small bits of the color creating a rainbow effect. A cautionary note is to shade your eyes or put on your sunglasses, which can aid in the clarity and protect your eyes at the same time.
This effect happens as the visible light from the sun hits those ice crystals in the cirrus clouds. These hexagonal ice crystals will bend and refract the visible light. This changes the angle of the light as it reaches your eye. This creates a distortion which leads to the optical illusion.