What to Know
- A New Jersey beachgoer captured a photo of a rare and beautiful optical phenomenon over a beach in Avalon -- a "fire rainbow"
- He took to Twitter with the image where he discovered that what looked like a cloud wearing a rainbow was actually a circumhorizontal arc
- The phenomenon only happens under certain conditions when the sun is a certain height in the sky and refracts through ice crystals
A rare and beautiful phenomenon was snapped above a New Jersey beach this Memorial Day weekend, and it's captured the imaginations of thousands on social media.
Packy McCormick shot a stunning photo of what looks like a rainbow painted on a cloud at 64th Street in Avalon on Sunday afternoon.
McCormick said he was at the beach with his family when he saw a woman a few chairs over pointing at the sky over the ocean.
"We looked over and saw what looked like some clouds wearing a rainbow print," he said. "I had no idea what it was, so I took a few pictures and turned to Twitter to find the answer."
As the image started getting traction, Twitter pulled through with some answers. The optical phenomenon he'd seen turned out to be a "fire rainbow," or what is technically known as a circumhorizontal arc. Thousands have since liked and shared posts of the ice halo image on social media.
The optical phenomenon only happens when the sun is higher than 58° above the horizon and its light passes through high-up cirrus clouds made up of plate-shaped ice crystals, according to the University of California geography department.
In its full form, the ice halo will appear as a large, colorful band running parallel to the horizon. Despite its common name "fire rainbow," the phenomenon is not a rainbow nor fire.
But it was a lucky photo for McCormick. "Fire rainbows" are typically only seen a couple of time each summer in any one place. They're even rarer in other areas due to the typical height of the sun in the sky.
Despite the rarity, fire rainbows are not only seen in New Jersey. On May 15, 6-year-old Samantha, daughter of Laura Arcila, spotted one from Travers Park in Queens.
Arcila filmed the phenomenon on her phone, watching it move through the clouds until it eventually disappeared.
What did she make of it?: "Absolutely awesome!"