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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 06/17/2010

The mysterious (and elusive) green flash

By Ann Posegate

* Weekend heat: Full Forecast | Lightning: To crouch or not? *

A green flash captured in San Francisco. From Wikimedia Commons.

Sailors have told countless tales about it. Scientists have doubted its existence. Many a beach-goer has hoped for a glimpse of it. I myself have missed it by mere seconds and have been on a mission to see one ever since.

The 'green flash' is an optical effect caused by the refraction of sunlight in the atmosphere during sunset and sunrise.

It was first documented by Captain George Back during an arctic expedition in 1836-1837. Since then, it has been fabled, debated, sought after and celebrated. Thanks to modern photography (example photos, video) the effect has been proven to exist. Thus we are not searching the skies in vain.

One only need a clear view of sunset (or sunrise) over a flat, unobstructed horizon, such as from the open sea or a mountaintop, to see it. Clear, dry, unpolluted air is ideal.

As the world turns, being on the East Coast doesn't help our chances of viewing a green flash at sunset. But to our good fortune, it has supposedly been sighted while looking west over the Chesapeake Bay. Though a glimpse is rare, following a few tips can increase our chances.

Have you seen the mysterious green flash? If so, let us know where and when with a comment below.

By Ann Posegate  | June 17, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Posegate  
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Neat! I have indeed witness two green flashes in my lifetime. One in South Africa and one near the Bay here... Both times I thought I was hallucinating, yet those around me also experienced it. And it is more of an "experience" - hard to put into words!! :)

Posted by: Camden-CapitalWeatherGang | June 17, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Camden! Thanks for sharing, and glad to know you saw one on the Bay. Maybe I'll take up sailing... :)

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | June 17, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I've been fortunate to see a green flash a few times while "sunsetting" on the beaches in and around Monterey, Ca. Of course, more often than not low stratus/fog obstructs the view west from there. But persistance and patience waiting for the right conditions paid off with a really rewarding and unique experience.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | June 17, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

I've seen many occasions of the green flash...mostly on ships at sea but also on western beaches at sunset. The best ones seem to come with some high cloud cover but an unobscured horizon- which makes for a nice contrast between the red/orange clouds and the green rays coming up from behind the curve of the horizon. It's an awesome experience because it seems like you can truly feel the earth turning as the sun slips away over the course of about a minute.

Posted by: erouscg | June 17, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

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