A Symphony of Light and Ice


Ever seen a flaming halo of colors splashed across the bright blue sky? This extremely rare yet enthralling phenomenon, commonly known as a “Fire Rainbow” is neither myth nor fantasy but a marvel of nature in reality. It is an alluring arch of vibrant colors draped around a select few clouds floating around in the wild blue yonder.

But the term fire rainbow is actually a misnomer, for this luminous crown of colors adorning the pristine white tufts in the sky is not a rainbow at all. It is an optical anomaly, scientifically and more accurately termed as a Circumhorizontal Arc and is formed by the refraction of sunlight (or moonlight) on ice crystals in cirrus and cirrostratus clouds. Simply put, it’s caused by sunlight shining through tiny ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere.

Fire rainbows are formed when the sun rises above 58 degrees in the sky and shines through the right type of cloud at a certain angle lighting up the sky with a riot of colors. When light enters the cloud’s hexagonal ice crystals vertically and leaves them horizontally, the 90 degrees change causes it to separate into the rainbow spectrum. But light needs to come through very specific crystals at a very specific angle, and that’s why this event is pretty rare.

How often a circumhorizontal arc is seen, depends on the location and the latitude of the observer. You’ll never see one at latitude greater than 55 degrees north or south – because at those latitudes, the sun simply isn’t high enough. At other latitudes the solar circumhorizontal arc is visible, for a greater or lesser time, around the summer solstice.

Today’s artwork, titled “A Symphony of Light and Ice” is inspired by this marriage between scientific rarity and artistic sensibility. This is my soft pastel rendering of the extraordinary yet exceptional marvel of nature.  

My soft pastel rendering of a fire rainbow

Humans work so hard to bring beauty into this world. We can pen down epic verses and classic tales, compose melodic symphonies and paint memorable masterpieces, but none of these can ever match the beauty and splendor of the cosmos. Perhaps it’s the rarity of this optical phenomenon that makes it so beautiful. Hope you enjoyed my artwork!