Green Flash, not lantern
September 22, 2009 5:59 PM   Subscribe

Green flash at sunset, last day of summer. They occur every night, but are too fast and/or faint for us to see. They also don't just occur over water. There are apparently 2 main types. Sometimes they're one big blob, sometimes on the edge & sometimes a hovering blob over the sun. Previously. [via]
posted by yoga (21 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Apparently due to atmospheric refraction the upper limb of Mr Sun is geometrically ~50 arc minutes below the horizon when we see him go bye-bye on visual. This delta is about twice his apparent size in the sky (~32 arc minutes).
posted by Palamedes at 6:14 PM on September 22, 2009

My mind, she is blown. Great post.
posted by saladin at 6:38 PM on September 22, 2009

Years ago I saw a spectacular green flash at sunset on Bali, looking out over the water, and had no idea what it was. The thing was huge, a wedge of greenish light that lingered for several seconds after the sun disappeared. I thought an oil tanker must have blown up just over the horizon, or something.

Later I found out what it was, and learned that photos of green flashes were in great demand by photography magazines. (This was in the 1980s, before everyone always had a camera everywhere.) On the Niku expedition the photographers would gather on deck every evening right before sunset and fire up their motor drives as the sun started dipping below the horizon, just on the off chance that there would be a green flash. There never was - it's apparently pretty rare to see a green flash even under optimal conditions - and I've never seen another one.

I've also never seen a photo of a green flash as large as the one I caught. I keep hoping to stumble across a photo of a flash like the one I remember, just to convince myself I'm not making it up.
posted by Quietgal at 6:46 PM on September 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

My stepfather's been trying to photograph a green flash for about 15 years now, with no success.
posted by lekvar at 6:48 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Le Rayon Vert
posted by Joe Beese at 6:53 PM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Just came in to mention Le Rayon Vert, only to be beaten to it. I've always wanted to see the actual phenomenon, myself... Maybe someday.
posted by Muttoneer at 7:17 PM on September 22, 2009

This was something my mom would tell me about on family beach vacations as we watched the sun set. I never really knew what she meant until I saw this picture. I will now be watching sunsets with even more vigilance.
posted by genmonster at 7:23 PM on September 22, 2009

I wish you'd posted this a few hours ago.
posted by swift at 7:24 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Stunning photographs and nice post. I've seen this once. I'll be on the lookout for more.
posted by zinfandel at 7:35 PM on September 22, 2009

For a good year after seeing Rohmer's film (linked by Joe Beese above), I tried almost nightly to see the green ray. It was the early nineties and I was living in San Francisco, in an in-law apartment on the last hill facing west over the Sunset district. I'd run to where my street curved down and provided an mostly unbroken view of the horizon, and wait. Not knowing the science of it, and knowing it would be a bad idea to gaze directly into the sun even if the fog seemed to offer protection, I couldn't help staring just as the sun was about ready to slip under the sea.

I don't remember ever seeing le rayon vert. But I was so romantic, and identified with Rohmer's heroine so much, that I'd gasp to see the sun sink, and close my eyes to see if le rayon vert was an optical illusion produced inside my own eyelids.

It's been years since I've seen the Rohmer movie or tried to see the green ray, or looked to see if it was actually more than a metaphor. The metaphor being, if I remember correctly, "When you see the ray [not if; when] you'll see the truth of your own heart and the hearts around you." Which was my ideal then.

Thank you for your post! I may go looking for the ray again - for the metaphor (still!), but also to understand the phenomena.
posted by goofyfoot at 7:41 PM on September 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

I wish you'd posted this a few hours ago.

Hang around for a few more and give it a go then.
posted by notyou at 7:45 PM on September 22, 2009

This is apparently the phenomenon for which the the other Green Flash is named.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:55 PM on September 22, 2009

Wow. My dad grew up in Hawaii and it was always a fable, oh, he'd seen it! but pure magic and angels were involved in whether you saw it or not. Internet sometimes ruins the fun. Oh, well. I still think my dad is a god among men for seeing it and still managing to bring home the fish and boat for dinner. He likely thinks so too. I don't plan to tell him about the sciencey bits. The Green Flash is maybe like your Santa...hunh. Just...explained.
posted by metasav at 8:42 PM on September 22, 2009

I have been lucky enough to capture 5 of them.
posted by Lynsey at 9:00 PM on September 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

Here are covers and title pages of Jules Verne's "Green ray," and here is the text.

Spoiler alert! Chapter XXII reads: Just as the sun was shooting its last ray into space their eyes met, and all else was forgotten in that glance!
posted by goofyfoot at 9:05 PM on September 22, 2009

I've lived next to an ocean all my life (except for some interminable months in Madrid) and I read about this in a book when I was a child, but since I've never gotten lucky enough to see it, I always thought it was a myth.

I admit to wanting to see a really vivid one, but I'll take a green flash, any green flash at this point.
posted by librarylis at 10:03 PM on September 22, 2009

I've seen one once. I was on the Ship Canal Bridge on I5 in Seattle. The sun set through a valley between two of the Olympic mountains, and just as it disappeared it flashed green for a brief moment. My passenger also saw it. Most of the descriptions of the green flash are over an open ocean, not through mountains, but I think the important thing is the atmospheric conditions.
posted by Xoc at 12:58 AM on September 23, 2009

Well, this is crazy awesome. Thanks.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 6:32 AM on September 23, 2009

Invoking the green flash was always a good way to get a girl to come to the Atlantic City beach with you at dawn. It usually got you laid too, whether you saw it or not (always not).
posted by SPUTNIK at 7:04 AM on September 23, 2009

I've known about the green flash since I was a kid. I've never seen one, but I keep looking.

I was having dinner at a rooftop restaurant in San Diego last summer, watching the sun set over the ocean. The three of us facing the sun had discussed the green flash previously, and we all made a point of watching for it at every opportunity.

However, just as the sun set, the waiter leaned in front of me to speak to the table, obscuring my view. A flash occurred, and the two others saw it, and noted it with surprise.

So, do you tell someone that through the course of their everyday actions they've just inadvertantly deprived you of an experience that you've been waiting for all your life? No, you don't. I didn't say anything.
posted by rlk at 7:37 AM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hmm, poking around a little, it seems like the thing I saw was a very rare form of green flash called a green ray. There don't seem to be any pictures of it, which is sort of mind-blowing. A real, albeit rare, phenomenon that has never been photographed just seems impossible. Somebody must have a picture, somewhere, even if it's in Grandpa's old shoebox of Polaroids. Scan that thing and get it up on Flickr!

By the way, here is some advice for maximizing your chances of seeing a green flash.

OK, so I've seen a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Would it be asking too much to see an aurora borealis too?
posted by Quietgal at 9:48 AM on September 23, 2009

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