Friday, March 03, 2006

Nacreous cloud, Iceland

There are various sites about rainbows and related atmospheric effects, e.g. the excellent Atmospheric Optics site. A recent addition is an extraordinary nacreous cloudscape in Iceland, whilst elsewhere there are images of a glory and broken spectre in Ireland, a low bow in Australia and a moon bow in Hawaii. The site provides technical information and software for simulating different optical effects: HaloSim. There is also some history: Lowitz arcs are named after Tobias Lowitz, who sketched a complex display visible from St Petersburg on June 18th 1790, and Parry arcs were first recorded by William Perry on 8 April 1820, near Melvile Island in the Canadian Arctic, during the search for the Northwest Passage.

Postscript August 2015
This early post was written before I was able to easily embed images and videos so I have included a timelapse video of nacreous clouds.  It was also written before I decided to restrict this blog to the arts, although of course those links involve many spectacular photographs.  Nacreous clouds in literature?  It is now possible to do a search in Google Books which turns up a novel by the poet Conrad Aiken, Blue Voyage (1927), set on a cruise ship, in which they sound like ice cream: 'The half-opened windows opposite, rising, scooped a rapid green evening sky; then slowly, forwardly, swooped again, scooping a nacreaous cloud touched with flamingo.'

  Jacob Heinrich Elbfas, Vädersolstavlan, 1636

I would also like to add in here a remarkable 17th century painting of Stockholm, the Vädersolstavlan, depicting a halo display event in 1535.  It is a copy of an original, now lost, by Urban Målare.  The painting has become an iconic image, appearing on banknotes, stamps, metro stations and Swedish tourist gifts.  There is a lengthy article on it on Wikipedia covering the topographical and meteorological details, its historical/political background and the possible artistic precedents - Albrecht Altdorfer and his less-well-known brother Erhard who was responsible for some apocalyptic Bible illustrations.


aurelia said...

May I add a couple of poetic references to your excellent postings on rainbows? A poem of William Wordsworth from 1802, "My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold The Rainbow", begins:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!…

Keats, though, did not approve of the Newton's scientific deconstruction of the rainbow as his poem "Lamia" of 1820 demonstrates:

Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine –
Unweave a rainbow

Plinius said...

Thanks Aurelia. John Gage starts his chapter with the Keats quote. He also notes that it was Keats and Charles Lamb who had voiced regret at Newton's unweaving of the rainbow during the 'immortal dinner' with Haydon and Worsdsworth on 28 December 1817.