The Curiosity Shop

Rays from the Sun at Dusk and Dawn

Looking west near sunset near Dallas, Texas. The shaft of light appears to widen, but actually it is just getting closer at the top of the picture and is a constant width.

Looking east near sunset near Grants, N.M. The shadow in the sky in the center of the picture appears to narrow, just as railroad tracks seem to converge, as it recedes into the distance.

Looking westnear sunset near Dallas, Texas. Once again, the widening of the sun rays is because they are getting closer. They are really of essentially constant width and separation.

Back in 1997 my wife, Linda, was telling me about an experience she had in grade school. She drew a picture of the sun on the horizon and rays of light going out from it at all angles into the sky above. When her teacher saw it she asked why Linda had drawn it that way since one never sees such rays in reality. At that point Linda commented to me that one really does see them often.

At that point I started looking for these rays and it wasn't long before I saw them. It was one evening as the sun was setting. There were clouds on the horizon and rays of light that appeared to be at about the same distance as the clouds, radiating in various directions from where I guessed the sun to be behind the clouds.

That struck me as odd. I figured the sun was shining through several holes in the clouds, but I couldn't figure out what would make the rays diverge so rapidly from that central point. Afterall, the light that comes to one hole in the clouds across 93 million miles must be going in only ever so slightly a different direction from the light that goes to another one of those holes. What could make them appear to go in such radically different directions this side of the clouds.

I thought about this for a month I bet, but it just made no sense. I asked a couple people what they thought, but they had no idea or ideas that we both knew were wrong after a bit of thought.

Another evening came with rays diverging from a setting sun, and as I looked at them something in my brain suddenly switched what I saw. It was much like the experience in looking at one of E.S. Esher's drawings. One moment you're looking at the old hag with the long nose, then suddenly you see the beautiful young lady there instead.

Likewise, instead of distant rays of light radiating from the clouds in different directions, I saw shafts of light in the sky overhead. One passed almost directly above me, and others passed high above off to the north and south. These shafts of light were nearly parallel, as I knew they had to be. They just appeared to come together in the distance, as railroad tracks do. They were harder to see directly above me and I can guess a couple of reasons for that. One is that it may be less likely for the dust in the air to deflect light nearly straight down to me from overhead, than to angle it down just slightly to me from a distance. The other reason is that in the distance the edges of the light shafts look sharper because they are far away. Of course it may be something else too.

So if you ever wondered about those rays of light, now you know what you've been looking at. See them for what they are next time. The real picture is MUCH more impressive. The shafts are generally huge.

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