SANTIAGO – Thousands of Chileans were surprised Monday morning to see the Sun surrounded by a “circular rainbow,” a phenomenon that – experts say – is caused by sunlight reflected off ice crystals in the clouds.
The unusual sight surprised and amazed many Chileans, who immediately came outdoors to take photographs that they posted on the social networks.
And assorted jokes began circulating referencing Sunday’s presidential runoff election, which conservative candidate and former President Sebastian Piñera won, attributing the curious phenomenon to him.
Luis Chavarria, the head of the Astronomy program at Conicyt, a Chilean government agency responsible for coordinating, promoting and aiding scientific research, said that the rainbow ring “is produced by the existence of ice particles in very high clouds, where the temperature is very low. You have ice crystals, which – when reflecting sunlight – create this rainbow.”
In remarks to the Emol Web site, Chavarria said that the rainbow appeared round, or ring-like, because “it’s up high,” in contrast to traditional rainbows, which form due to rainfall near the ground and are seen “horizontally” by people.
Chilean Weather Service official Luis Salazar said that the phenomenon is a “solar halo” caused by the diffraction of sunlight by the ice particles, which act like prisms in a thin band of cloud, thereby creating an optical illusion.