Colebrook NH Halo Display

Colebrook NH Halo Display: A Rare Atmospheric Phenomenon

Have you ever witnessed a stunning atmospheric display that left you in awe? One such extraordinary event occurred in Colebrook, New Hampshire on March 4, 1935. Gerald E Owen, a rural mail carrier and nature enthusiast, had the privilege of observing and documenting this remarkable spectacle. His detailed account of the event provides us with valuable insights into the various optical phenomena that unfolded that day.

The day began with a clear, cloudless sky as the sun rose before 7 am. However, around 9:30 am, a thin haze started to appear in the north, gradually covering the entire sky. This haze was actually a high cirrus cloud containing ice crystals, which played a crucial role in the formation of the stunning atmospheric optics display that followed.

According to Owen's observations, the initial stage of the display involved the appearance of rainbow colors on either side of the sun, creating a beautiful spectacle. As time passed, a 22-degree halo and a thin arc of light resembling an aurora emerged towards the north. Eventually, this arc grew and intersected the center of the sun, forming a colorless parhelic circle. Meanwhile, the colored circle of the 22-degree halo completely encircled the sun, intersecting the larger light circle.

The mesmerizing display continued to evolve, with a greater colored arc appearing above the sun circle and a smaller but incredibly brilliant arc emerging below it. These arcs were formed by column crystals and their presence added an extra layer of magnificence to the scene. As the sun climbed higher, these column crystals gave rise to upper and lower tangent arcs, eventually transforming into a circumscribed halo. Additionally, brilliant spectrums known as sundogs appeared just outside the intersections of the circles.

As if these phenomena weren't enough to captivate onlookers, opposite colored arcs were also visible in the southwest and northwest directions. These arcs were a rare occurrence known as infralateral arcs, resulting from short column crystals. The accurate description and accompanying drawing by Gerald E Owen serve as invaluable references for understanding the placement of these arcs and the colors of the parhelia, 22-degree halos, and circumscribed halos.

To further enhance our understanding of this remarkable event, let's compare Mr. Owen's drawing with HaloSim simulations made for a sun elevation of 36.5º - shortly before noon in Colebrook. This comparison allows us to observe how well the drawing represents the actual placement of the arcs and the colors of the various optical phenomena. Notably, the colors of the infralateral arcs, formed by 90º inclined crystal faces, appear more spread out compared to those of the arcs formed by 60º inclined faces.

The Colebrook NH Halo Display serves as a testament to the beauty and complexity of atmospheric optics. It reminds us that even in the most ordinary of locations, extraordinary phenomena can unfold, captivating those lucky enough to witness them. The detailed observations and drawings provided by Gerald E Owen offer a valuable glimpse into the intricacies of these optical phenomena, allowing us to appreciate and study them more thoroughly.

Witnessing such a rare atmospheric display is a reminder of the wonders that surround us and the mysteries that still await exploration. Let us continue to be curious and observant, for who knows what other breathtaking spectacles may be unveiled in the skies above us.

The drawing was made in 1935 at Colebrook, New Hampshire by Gerald E Owen. He was a rural mail carrier (he carried mail by horse and wagon, horse and sleigh, and then automobile during his time as a mail carrier) and he kept chickens, pigs, and four or five jersey cows on a small farm on Bridge Street. He was always interested in birds, geology, and weather.

He wrote of the display .my comments in brackets.: "Unusual Phenomena observed from 10 am until 12 noon on Monday, Mar. 4, 1935. The sun rose before 7 am in a clear cloudless sky. At about 9:30, a thin haze appeared in the north, gradually overcastting the sky. .a high cirrus cloud containing the halo forming ice crystals. At first the rainbow colors appeared on either side of the sun, right and left. Then, above and below, .developing 22 degree halo. and a thin arc of light similar to the aurora appeared at the northward. This arc gradually grew to intersect the center of the sun. .colourless parhelic circle from plates and columns. At this time the colored circle .22 degree halo. was completely around the sun intersecting the larger light circle. Then appeared above the sun circle, a greater colored arc and below the sun circle, a smaller and very brilliant arc. .Column crystals form upper and lower tangent arcs becoming, as the sun climbed, a circumscribed halo. Just outside the intersections of the circles appeared very brilliant spectrums .sundogs from plate crystals. and away at the southwest appeared and northwest appeared opposite colored arcs..Rare infralateral arcs from short column crystals."

If only all descriptions of halo displays were so accurate. Compare Mr Owen's drawing with the HaloSim simulations made for a sun elevation of 36.5º - shortly before noon at Colebrook. The drawing shows very well the placement of the arcs and the colours of the parhelia, 22º and circumscribed halos. The colours of the infralateral arcs (from 90º inclined crystal faces) are shown more spread than those of the arcs from 60º inclined faces as indeed they are.

Reproduced with permission from Mr Owen's grandson, Rob Owen. ©Rob Owen.

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Reference Atmospheric Optics

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  • "Colebrook NH Halo Display". Atmospheric Optics. Accessed on December 10, 2023.

  • "Colebrook NH Halo Display". Atmospheric Optics, Accessed 10 December, 2023

  • Colebrook NH Halo Display. Atmospheric Optics. Retrieved from