Fire Haze Turns Sun Into Big Red Ball

A towering cumulus cloud partially eclipses the setting sun Monday evening seen from Duluth. Haze from Canadian forest fires has returned to the region making for deep red suns around sunrise and sunset. Credit: Bob King

Smoke from fires in the Canada’s Northwest Territories continues to funnel down across Manitoba and into the U.S. Upper Midwest creating an artificial overcast of smoky haze. We’ve lost the blue clarity of our daytime sky; at night stars look much dimmer seem more distant.

If you’re a skywatcher, everything in the nighttime sky looks noticeably fainter, especially objects within 20° of the horizon. I feel as if I’m looking through gauze. The unusually pallid appearance of the sky from dinnertime onward might make you think the sun has already set until you realize it’s still out there in the west looking little brighter than the full moon.

Funny. Yesterday, when I took this picture, someone pulled up alongside my car and remarked at how amazing the moon looked. The strangely faint sun had thrown him off!

The full sun shortly before setting yesterday July 28, 2014. You might see three small sunspot groups – two to the right of center and a third a short distance within the sun’s left limb. Credit: Bob King

Fire smoke generally scatters away nearly all light from the setting sun except deep oranges and reds.

The haze is both good and bad when it comes to observing. We like a big red sun, but it’s tough sacrificing otherwise clear nights.

I shouldn’t complain. People farther north, where the smoke is heavier, have to breath it.

Keep watch on the moon the next few nights as it waxes from crescent to half. If you live where there’s forest fire smoke, chances are you’re in for some red moons too.

4 Responses

  1. Hi Bob. Although the sky has been clouds free for the past few days and the observing has been great (i could easily make out M31 (Andomeda) with the naked eye at 2 am from my semi-urban location in Penticton, BC, pre-dawn showed a distinct band of aerosols obscuring the bottom 20 degrees in the north-east. Even Venus and the ISS were on the orangy side. no fires in a 300 km (200 miles) radius but lots about 1000 miles north. the forest here is awfully dry and the forecast is for more of the same with high temperatures. Keeping my fingers crossed as i plan to head up to Mt. Kobau this week-end to take part in the star party.

    1. astrobob

      I sure hope it holds off for the star party. We’re really in the thick of it now. Terrible conditions. Our star party is coming up too on Aug. 22. Ditto for fingers crossed.

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