Astronomy

Two Suns in Chinese Sky Puzzles Scientists



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A rare meteorological event occurring over the Chinese skies has left scientists scratching their heads.

Two brilliant suns suddenly appeared in the sky.

One sun, the normal, bright cheerful one that warms the Earth and lights the countryside continued to slide towards the horizon as dusk approached. The other "sun" suddenly flared to life. That eerie interloper shone almost as brilliantly. As large as the original sun, the new sun differed mostly in color and definition: the impostor was tinted orange and appeared a bit fuzzy.

Stranger still, people witnessing the strange sight noticed the suns cast double shadows of objects on the ground.

Website "Life's Little Mysteries," as stumped as many others that saw the phenomena, sought out expert advice from Jim Kaler, the University of Illinois astronomer that debunked the viral story about the Orion constellation star Betelgeuse undergoing a supernova explosion and appearing as a second sun in the sky.

Kaler believes that the second sun that many saw over China was caused by atmospheric refraction. He admitted, however, that the phenomena is not fully understood.  

After viewing a video taken of the phenomena, Kaler said: "I doubt it's been computer modeled. There must have been some blob of atmosphere somewhere that caused this truly spectacular phenomenon, which in a sense is a mirage."

A Chinese television report about the two suns can be seen here. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJkurPs9smA&feature=related> The report starts 20 seconds into the video.

Not completely satisfied with Kaler's partial explanation, Mysteries sought out another expert, Grant Perry. An atmospheric scientist at the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Institute for Satellite and Meteorological Studies, Perry admitted that he too is a bit mystified.

"This is not a common optical phenomenon that we're seeing here," he explained. "I'm asking myself if this is an artifact of the lens, but if that were the case—if it's reflections of the lens elements—then the images would move in relation to each other as the camera moves. But that doesn't happen."

If the peculiar incident was not caused by lens flare or any understood meteorological phenomena like "sun-dogs"—multiple images of the sun projected by refraction in the upper atmosphere—then what caused a second sun to appear?

"You would have to assume it is particles of ice or something in the atmosphere aligned in such a way that they would refract the sunlight at that very small angle, but only in one direction. It would require some fairly peculiar characteristics."

So, scientists believe it is ice after all that caused sunlight to refract and create the image of a twin sun.

A logical explanation, yet one that has not been proven. The phenomena over China is something so rare that science has not had the opportunity to fully investigate its properties.

The second sun disappeared at sunset when the original sun set. The next morning, only one sun rose.

No doubt many in China breathed a sigh of relief.

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