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Optical smorgasbord: Icy cloud layer makes for dramatic sunrise photos in the Cascades

Icy cloud layer makes for dramatic sunrise photos (Photo: Radka Chapin)

It's amazing what a thin layer of ice crystals can do if given the right environment.

Radka Chapin was climbing up in Mount Ann in the northern Cascades last weekend when she came upon a stunning sight: A sun halo, flanked by a jet contrail that cast its shadow on the cloud layer.

The sun halo seen early Sunday morning was caused by those high, thin cirrus clouds -- made up of those tiny ice crystals. Each crystal acts like a prism to refract the sunlight into the colors of the rainbow.

It's a relatively common sight, especially on days when rain is approaching. You've heard "Red sky at morning, sailor's take warning" -- much like cirrus can make for a colorful sunrise, they are also usually the leading edge of an approaching cold front -- meaning thicker clouds and perhaps stormier weather is not too far off the horizon.

Sure enough, rain returned on Monday and it rained on the next three days.

The contrail was just right place, right time -- and right altitude to cast its shadow on the cloud layer.

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