The Ever Elusive Green Flash...
an Atmospheric Event!

This photo was taken from Torrey Pines, California on Jan. 7, 1996 by Andrew T. Young


Like many seaside communities, Naples resident's and visitors alike, flock every evening to the beach in hopes of witnessing one of nature's most elusive phenomenon...the green flash!

Like many Neapolitans, I wanted to learn as much as possible about the green flash, in hopes of someday, not just chasing, but actually catching a green flash. I've put together some information that I hope will aid you in finding your own "green flash". Good Luck!

What is the "Green Flash?"

The green flash is an atmospheric refractive phenomenon where the top edge of the Sun will momentarily turn green.

The basic cause for the green flash is that refraction bends the light of the Sun. The atmosphere acts like a weak prism, separating the light into different colors. Bluer light is bent more strongly than red light. However, the amount of refraction even at the horizon is quite small: only a few seconds of arc (one second of arc is 1/3600th of a degree). This effect is magnified by the atmosphere itself. Layering in the atmosphere causes an effect similar to a horizontal cylindrical lens: the separation of the color bands is exaggerated in the vertical direction, so that the separation can be up to several minutes of arc.

What to look for:

A major problem for people who have never seen a green flash is not knowing what to look for. Flashes are not always green; they are not a "flash" in the sense of a sudden burst of brightness (except at sunrise). They do not (usually) light up the sky, but are often small and inconspicuous.

Location, Location, Location

If you want to see green flashes, you must be in the right place. The major difficulty that people have in trying to see GF's is to insist on standing someplace where green flashes are almost never visible.

Rule #1

An apparent horizon must usually be formed by some obstacle lower than your eye, of course, the ocean meets this requirement perfectly.

Rule #2

The second important requirement is for reasonably clear air. If the air is full of dust, smog, or haze, there won't be enough green light transmitted at the horizon for you to see a green flash.

Rule #3

Finally, because most green flashes are pretty puny, it helps a lot (especially if you are a beginner) to use a little optical aid: binoculars, field glasses, even opera glasses will do. Even a little magnification is a big help. (After you've seen several flashes and know what to look for, you'll learn to recognize some of the smaller ones even with the naked eye. But you might as well make it as easy as possible to start with.)

But, be careful. The sun is safe to look at even with binoculars, when it's right down on the horizon. But it's a lot brighter just a few minutes earlier at sunset, or a few minutes later at sunrise. The brightness changes by a factor of two every minute near sunrise and sunset, so an error of just a minute or two can make the difference between eye safety and eye injury. Be sure your horizon is really lower than where you stand; and don't look at the Sun when it's more than its own diameter above that low horizon. If your thumb, extended horizontally at arm's length, can cover up the Sun while touching the horizon, the Sun is low enough to look at safely.

A sensible rule is: If the Sun is too bright to look at comfortably, don't look at it!!

Information provided by: Mount Wilson Observatory, Andrew T. Young, copyrighted 1999

Disclaimer: Ruth G. Bethem and Downing-Frye Realty do not endorse and are not responsible for any information contained within. All information deemed reliable but urge any person looking for a green flash to verify by their own means and to use caution and good sense in protecting their eyesight. This is for general information purposes only.


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