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Ice crystals seen in the sky above Park City

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Posted at 5:54 PM, Jan 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-01 20:11:31-05

PARK CITY, Utah — FOX 13 viewer Nanci Done in Park City captured some unique sights in the winter sky on Friday: hexagonal ice crystals hard at work, creating some "atmospheric optics."

The phenomena are labeled in the photos below, with their explanations:

  • A: A circumzenithal arc, which some people get confused with a “fire rainbow” or a circumhorizontal arc
  • B: A 46-degree ice halo
  • C: A smaller 22-degree ice halo
  • D: A parhelia or commonly known as a "sun dog"
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Ice crystals form interesting light patterns in the sky, seen from Park City on Friday, Jan. 1, 2021.

  • E: A weak upper tangent arc
  • F: The rare 44-degree ice halo
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Ice crystals form interesting light patterns in the sky, seen from Park City on Friday, Jan. 1, 2021.

Today as our main storm moved away, we still have strong flow out of the north and some lingering clouds around. As you’ve noticed, it’s cold. The clouds contain ice crystals which bend the light and make for interesting effects in the atmosphere. We call these, “optics”. The ice crystals that made these special effects today are shaped like tiny hexagons. Ice crystals come in many shapes kind of like snowflakes. The hexagonal crystals refract and reflect the light to our eyes. We are seeing millions of tiny crystals acting like a prism as it breaks up the colors of white light. White light from the sun is made of all of the colors, so we see what looks like a “rainbow” effect. Rainbow is a misnomer since these optical effects are made of ice.

Also in the second photo, off to the far right looks to be the rare 44-degree halo piece with a weak upper tangent arc. What a treat! Some people refer to the crystals as “diamond dust.” This is an apt name for such beautiful phenomena.

More information about halos and atmospheric optics can be found on the Atmosphere Optics website out of the UK.

Keep your eyes to the sky, you’ll be in for a treat on days where the ice crystals are plentiful!

FORECAST: Calm & quiet holiday weekend