Wednesday, February 1, 2017

In Pursuit of the Green Flash
By Michael

Eleanor watching the sunset in Fiji.
Definitely not a green flash night, too much
atmospheric haze and likely distant clouds;
note how dim the sun is at its base.
I’ve seen the green flash so many times, I forget there was a time when it was a mystery to me. Before ever seeing it, I'd heard references to it and I wondered exactly what it was and whether it was real.

It is real. But it’s also a bit of a misnomer because it’s not a flash in the sense of bright light, it’s a flash in the sense that it’s over in a flash. It makes more sense to describe it as, “a green smear that you'll miss if you blink.”

There are precise atmospheric conditions necessary to produce this phenomenon, and I’m not sure what they are, but I know that when I’m someplace with no mountains or clouds or too much haze obscuring the horizon and the setting sun, it’s likely I’ll see a green flash. To be clear, the sky can be solid overcast, but as long as there is a clear band at the horizon, conditions may be right.

Especially for folks living on the East Coast or the interior of the U.S., seeing the green flash is not easy. An ocean horizon to the west offers the best hope. Cruising in the Pacific offers plenty of open horizon opportunities. On the contrary, here in Ajo, we've got too much terrain to get a clear shot of the sun setting behind the horizon.

I saw a green flash soon before we left Fiji, while photographing the sunset, and decided to share exactly when it’s visible and what it looks like. There are better photos online, but these are what I’ve got (and I missed the flash).

Okay, this looks like a green flash night--so long as the
sun, which, as it sets, does not set behind that island
(the sun will move from left to right in this frame).
As it drops beneath those clouds, it will
reveal either a clear horizon, or distant
clouds we cannot see now.

Great, horizon looks clear, but I'm concerned about the island.

Damn the island.

Wait, it might set well to the right of the island, in the clear.
The horizon looks perfect for a green flash.


Definitely gonna clear the island. I still can't stare at
the sun with the naked eye at this point, just catching
glances. (But you do need to be staring at the time
the green flash happens.)

Now I'm catching more frequent glances, sunglasses coming off.

I'm almost staring constantly at this point, I don't want to miss it.

Any millisecond now.

I'm not blinking.

And this is the last photo I have that shows anything.
I saw a great green flash this night, but the camera didn't catch it.
But, this is exactly what it looks like, only green--a distinct, brilliant
green smear in place of this white light. It's the last thing
that can be seen. It's very quick, but unmistakeable.
And like dolphins at the bow, you really don't get tired
of seeing them.
And if you’re intrigued by the green flash, I offer a story from my friend Mike Litzow aboard Galactic. While I’ve seen my share of green flashes, Mike has seen a handful of doubles, and even triples. Do you even know what that means? Check out his post from the middle of the Atlantic a couple months back.


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