Thursday, 18 October 2018

New case of exotic 19d plate arcs

When I first noticed the display at 08-10 local time on 31 May 2018, it was already well-developed. The high cloud layer was very thin and it was visible only in the area close to the sun. At first the display consisted of an upper 23d plate arc and an upper quarter of a 23d halo. A little later I noticed arcs as light spots in the side area of the sun, that reminded me lower 24d plate arcs.

When I processed images, I noticed that these arcs are more like 18d plate arcs than lower 24d plate arcs. But during the observation I distinctly saw that the arcs were located at an elevation lower than the sun, while 18d plate arcs are always located at the same elevation as the sun. I applied stronger processing and revealed a gap between the arcs and a 18d halo. As a result, it became clear that the arcs are exotic 19d plate arcs that were first observed during the legendary Lascar display. In addition, a trace of exotic 28d halo was also revealed.

Sun elevation is about 36 degrees

Some analysis

The halos, known as Lascar halos, are caused by exotic pyramidal crystals with pyramidal faces of (2 0 2 3) Miller index. These exotic pyramids have a 39.1 apex angle while pyramids from regular pyramidal crystals have a 56.1 angle. To simulate the display, I used four different crystal populations. Not one of them have basal crystal faces. The first population is plate oriented pyramidal crystals with upper exotic and lower regular pyramidal faces. This population makes most visible features of the display (19d and 23d plate arcs). The second population consists of crystals with regular upper and lower pyramids, and it contributes to 18d and 23d halos. The population is poorly oriented, in order to  reproduce some features of 18d and 23d halos. The third population contains plate oriented regular pyramidal crystals consisting only of lower pyramidal faces. It needs only to enhance the upper 23d plate arc. Finally, the fourth population is added to reproduce the 28d halo. Its crystals is randomly oriented and consists of upper exotic pyramidal faces in triangular habit. That is, the crystals are almost regular tetrahedrons.

My attempt to simulate the display.
Software: HaloPoint 2.0 by Jukka Ruoskanen
The result shows quite good agreement with the observation, except for an exotic lower 3d plate arc. There are two possible reasons for it. The first is that a glow around the sun has much more intensity than halos presented here. It does not allow to reveal a 3d arc, unlike the Lascar display, whose observing place was located at an altitude more than of 4000 m above sea level. At this altitude the atmosphere has a low level of aerosols, and therefore the glow around the sun is very small, and the sky background is dark. My observation point was in Pskov Oblast, which has a flat topography with usual atmospheric conditions. The second reason is that exotic crystals may have triangular, but not hexagonal habit. The 3d arc disappears when triangular exotic crystals are applied.


 - Nicolas A. Lefaudeux, "Crystals of hexagonal ice with (2 0 2 3) Miller index faces explain exotic arcs in the Lascar halo display"
- Nicolas A. Lefaudeux (personal communication, 2018)

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Time machine: the Chengdu display from July 20, 2016

The 1997 Lascar display ( ) opened the door to a world of exotic halos. Halo researchers and enthusiasts alike have all been eagerly waiting for a repeat event. Twenty years have passed and not a single reappearance was reported, until recently.

On July 20 2016, photographer Jin Hui captured an odd-radius halo display from Chengdu, China and later shared his photos with the Chinese sky-watcher community. The significance of the display wasn't immediately recognized and the halos involved were mistakenly identified as ordinary pyramidal plate arcs. Fortunately, the photos were brought back up on the table for better scrutiny earlier this year when members from the community performed housekeeping on past digital archives.
© Jin Hui, shown with permission. Taken from Chengdu at around 22:00UT, July 19, 2016.
 In the reprocessed images, we noticed that the two colored arcs sitting below the 35° plate arcs seem too far out to be 24° plate arcs. The observation was quickly verified by simulations - the arcs are actually positioned at an angular distance of around 28° from the sun. The overall appearance greatly resembles the 28° plate arcs in the Lascar display at low solar elevations ( ). 
Dr. Nicolas Lefaudeux, who carried out in-depth research[1] on the Lascar display, confirmed our findings with his outstanding post-processing techniques. In the stacked B-R image, the arcs exhibit excellent color separation. At this point the presence of the arcs is unmistakable - we now have the world's second known record of the 28° plate arcs.
Post-processing by Nicolas Lefaudeux
Compared to the Lascar display, what happened in Chengdu is different in several ways:
  • no other exotic arcs/circular halos
  • 9° and 24° plate arcs are present
  • 28° circular halo is weaker, if present at all
Unfortunately, the lack of other exotic arcs makes it impossible to pin point what produced the display. At least two types of crystals, pyramidal crystals with 30-32 pyramidal faces and octahedral cubic ice crystals, possess the interfacial angles suitable for 28° plate arcs ( more discussions can be found at: ).

Facing a dead end with the Chengdu case, we took a deeper dive into the archive hoping to find more sightings of the same event. The effort paid off with three photographic records recovered. Though these records contain no additional exotic halos either, they do help us paint a better overall picture of what happened geographically on July 20.

100km southwest of Chengdu, photographer Lin Yong recorded an almost identical scene from the summit of Mt. Emei, except that the 28° arcs are much weaker. Further southwest in Yuexi, crystal quality in the clouds plummeted. Founder of the Chinese sky-watcher community Ji Yun saw only a poor, traditional odd-radius plate display. These reports combined suggest that crystals responsible for the 28° arcs only appeared regionally that morning and probably require more demanding conditions to form.
© Lin Yong, shown with permission. Taken from Mt. Emei at around 22:00UT, July 19, 2016.
© Ji Yun, shown with permission. Taken from Yuexi at around 23:40UT, July 19, 2016.
According to the photographers, the halos over Chengdu and Mt. Emei quickly weakened and disappeared after sunrise. However, four hours later on Mt. Emei, Yang Jialu captured a display with 18° and 23° plate arcs with her handphone. Unfortunately the 28° area above the 23° plate arc was left out of the frame, making it impossible to know whether the 28° plate arc showed up or not. 
© Yang Jialu, shown with permission. Taken from Mt. Emei at around 2:00UT, July 20, 2016.
It's a real bummer that the display didn't last longer after sunrise in Chengdu and Emei. Studying how the 28° arcs changes with solar elevations could be another approach to closing the case. Anyways, what we have here is undoubtedly a milestone on our way to fully working out the Lascar puzzle. Till then, let's enjoy the era we're living in where there're still puzzles to be solved.

Jia Hao

[1] Nicolas A. Lefaudeux, "Crystals of hexagonal ice with (2 0 -2 3) Miller index faces explain exotic arcs in the Lascar halo display," Appl. Opt. 50, F121-F128 (2011)