Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Double or split Sun in China?

“Weeks after a story shot across the Web claiming that the imminent explosion of a nearby star would result in the appearance of a second sun in the sky — a story that was later debunked — two suns were caught on camera yesterday in China. The suns — one fuzzy and orange, the other a crisp yellow orb — appeared side-by-side, one slightly higher than the other. What’s going on?”
‘Two suns’ spotted in China defy explanation

A tentative explanation by Jim Kaler was quoted on Life’s Little Mysteries, summarized as “an effect of optical refraction”. But as they themselves quoted other experts, this does not seem like anything seen before. That is, “sun dogs, sunset mirages, sun pillars and sun halos are all relatively common and well understood. But not this effect”.

Basically they are symmetric and appear some degrees apart from the Sun. They may be partially obstructed, and thus not appear very symmetric, but not like the Chinese double-sun.

As Grant Perry is also quoted, this could be a reflection. A double-window can produce similar results:


Above, the Sun at left is just a reflection from the double-window.

But then, as Perry also notes, such reflections would move in relation to the Sun when the camera moved. They would move much less if they were reflections on a double window rather than internal camera lens reflections, but they would move.

Then again, in the very short clips we have seen we can’t be sure if there’s no relative movement at all. So this is still a possibility.

But I’m inclined to think perhaps the double-sun is actually a single, split Sun:


The orange circle is a suggestion of the size of the actual Sun, which may have been obstructed, split in half, by something – thick fog? – giving the illusion of two smaller circles. Lack of focus and compression artfifacts would contribute to form each half into a more round circle, but even on casual inspection it’s clear they are not perfectly round.

It wouldn’t be very hard to test this suggestion: one would just have to check the angular size of the Sun in the video. Our actual Sun measures around half a degree, so if we have two quarter-degree suns, then this is a split sun. If we have two half a degree ones, then this is something else, indeed a “double-sun”.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find more details on the video so we can’t calibrate and make estimates, but I do suspect this could be a split Sun. The tone of the two halves is different, but this could be simply an artifact from the video camera or the atmosphere between the Sun and the camera.

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Posted in Fortean | 5 comments

5 Comments so far

  1. Pat March 14th, 2011 7:54 am

    Keep in mind though that for measuring the angular size of the sun in an photo or video and comparing it to the “actual” size you also need information about the objective used.
    Change in focal distance will change the angular size (also relative to the environment) of an objective.

    To make any reasonable claim one would have to know at least the exact focal distance used in the shot, best would be to also know the distance between camera and objects in the background (like the bridge).

    Btw., while I don’t think it’s absolutely impossible that the cause here is something (e.g. fog) silhouetting the sun, my bet is on some kind of reflection.

  2. David Rysdam March 14th, 2011 9:03 am

    I thought for sure that video was going to link the bridge and the sun together. The struts of the bridge look just the right shape to be the “thick fog” you suggest could be splitting the sun.

  3. Drabkikker March 25th, 2011 9:57 am

    Very weird indeed.

    The difference in tone between the two suns could be supportive of the ‘double window’ explanation, where one of the reflections would be much brighter than the other. The slight off-horizontal angle between the two suns could also point in this direction, as it could be caused by the two panes not being exactly parallel.
    If, on the other hand, window or camera reflection can be ruled out and we go for the mirage explanation instead, it would be an extraordinary type of mirage, providing a vertical mirroring instead of the ‘normal’ horizontal one.

    What precisely do you mean by a ‘split sun’, as opposed to a ‘double’ one? I don’t exactly follow your reasoning as to why the former would result in two half-sized suns and the latter in two full-sized ones.

  4. Drabkikker March 25th, 2011 10:07 am

    Oh – and the two suns’ being not exactly circular might very well be an aspect ratio thing. In this clip here they seem to be perfectly round.

  5. DARASH June 2nd, 2011 5:23 pm

    i have seen 2 suns just like this in may 2011 on coast of colombia they were setting right over the ocean . Gods speed to you all

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