Sundogs are a reminder of the beauty of the northern winter
So you harrumphed out to your car Tuesday morning, muttering under your breath because you'd just spent a predawn hour shoveling snow, when suddenly you broke off in mid-mutter -- and gasped:...
So you harrumphed out to your car Tuesday morning, muttering under your breath because you'd just spent a predawn hour shoveling snow, when suddenly you broke off in mid-mutter -- and gasped:
There to the southeast horizon, spectacular "parhelia" on both sides of the real sun, looking like a sunrise on a lost Star Trek episode, "The Planet of Three Suns" -- and throwing off nebula-like colors to boot.
What a display, and what a timely reminder of the natural beauty and wonder of life in the North.
Like rainbows after thunderstorms, sundogs lift spirits after traumatic weather events, adding pendants of ruby and emerald to our landscapes of diamond white.
Speaking of diamonds, sundogs have their origin in another evocative phrase: "diamond dust." That's the name for ice crystals that hang suspended in the air, especially after snowstorms.
These crystals are little hexagons -- "microscopic stop signs," as one meteorologist put it. When conditions are right, these tiny crystals catch the sun's rays and bend them 22 degrees, just enough to flank the sun with twin images of the real thing.
When you smile and shake your head in wonder at the sight, here's something to remember: You're not alone. Countless others have responded in just that entranced way, and not only in modern times:
"Dazzle mine eyes, or do I see three suns?" That's Shakespeare, as spoken through one of his characters in "Henry VI, Part 3."
Wikipedia has a fascinating roundup of other references through the ages. "Two false suns rose with the sun and followed it all through the day until sunset," noted Aristotle, who also observed -- correctly -- that the false suns never are above or below the sun but always are to the sides.
The phenomenon of double sun "was mentioned in the Senate," wrote Cicero, a Roman philosopher.
"Those that affirm they witnessed this prodigy are neither few nor unworthy of credit, so that there is more reason for investigation than incredulity."
Here's a reference from the 1500s: "Even though the other two suns were not as bright as the one, they were clearly visible. I feel this was no small miracle."
And as Jack London wrote in his short story "The Sun-Dog Trail," "The northern lights flame in the sky, and the sun-dogs dance, and the air is filled with frost-dust."
In Grand Forks, sundogs as a team name was suggested as far back as 1991, when the Central High School Redskins were choosing a new moniker. Today the name comes up often as a possible replacement for UND's Fighting Sioux: "Think of the possibilities for marketing that in the 'Big Sky' conference," wrote John Johnson in September in a letter to the Herald.
The idea might catch on. In nature, sundogs don't have much of the warrior or competitive spirit about them. But as Tuesday morning's display confirmed, when it comes to breathtaking and inspiring North Country spectacles, there's nothing that compares. -- Tom Dennis for the Grand Forks Herald