(Amy Lien & Frank Fang) Three suns were observed over multiple cities in China’s eastern coastal region on Dec. 10, as well as a “reverse rainbow,” setting off a flurry of comments on the Chinese Internet.
A netizen from Nantong City wrote on Nantong Hao Bin Forum that he had witnessed an amazing spectacle Monday morning, according to the Yangtse Evening Post. In the photographs he took, the sun and a pair of smaller bright spots are clearly visible.
Netizens from Shanghai, Suzhou, Changzhou, and Danyang also captured the event—two symmetric bright spots on either side of the sun.
While on his way to work at about 9 a.m., Mr. He from Nanjing was surprised to see a rainbow in the shape of a smile, particularly as it had not rained recently; he took photos.
These unusual phenomena quickly went viral on the Internet, coinciding with recent fears regarding the Mayan calendar, which some have interpreted as meaning the world will come to an end on Dec. 21 this year. Many also scoffed at the idea that the spots were celestial omens portending some sort of catastrophe.
Some online called it a “smile rainbow.” (Mr. He from Nanjing)
Mainland meteorology experts refer to these abnormal phenomena as mock suns or sundogs (parhelia), an optical phenomenon produced by ice crystals, creating colored or white arcs and spots in the sky.
According to these scientists, the smaller suns are actually shadows of the real sun. This unusual atmospheric phenomenon does not tend to last long, just a few minutes to less than an hour, and only occurs under very rare conditions.
First, sunlight must pass through ice crystals in cirrus clouds located high in the upper troposphere. Second, the clouds must be thin enough for light to penetrate. Finally, a mock sun can only be observed from a particular angle relative to the sun, ice crystals, and the viewer.
However, some Chinese employers are not buying this explanation. Some have even paid their employees “doomsday leave,” and given everyone a “gift bag for survival” containing items such as a candle, box of matches, bottle of spring water, and a bag of instant noodles, just in case.