Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2002 January 9
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Blue Flash
Credit & Copyright: Mario Cogo

Explanation: Difficult to observe, the momentary green flash above the rising or setting sun has been documented as a phenomenon caused by the atmospheric bending or refraction of sunlight. Like a weak prism, the Earth's atmosphere breaks white sunlight into colors, bending red colors slightly and green and blue colors through increasingly larger angles. When the sky is clear, a green flash just above the sun's edge can sometimes be seen for a second or so, when the sun is close to a distant horizon. A blue flash is even harder to see though, because the atmosphere must be extraordinarily clear to avoid scattering and diminishing the refracted blue sunlight. Still, from a site near Roques de los Muchachos (altitude 2,400 meters) on La Palma in the Canary Islands, astrophotographer Mario Cogo captured this dramatic telescopic image of a blue flash on color film in October of 2001. The image of the setting Sun with large sunspot groups on its surface is heavily distorted by atmospheric layers. A lingering green rim is just visible under the tantalizing blue flash.

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
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