Summer of the Green Flash?

School is out and summertime and sunsets will be in my future.  Knowing this, I am always on the lookout for the green flash.  I have never seen a green flash but several friends have said that they have.   I’m skeptical. Or maybe just jealous.

So, what exactly is the green flash?  According to, the atmosphere is like a prism, splitting light into a visible spectrum.  At sunrise and sunset, most colors are refracted or bent away from our eyes, like greens and blues.  The warmest colors of red and orange are the exceptions.  For a green flash to occur, a small bit of green gets through the atmosphere to our eyes.

Ok, so it is real.  Now,what exactly am I looking for?

I have been looking for this great big FLASH of green light jetting vertically up from the sun. (kind of like in Pirates of the Caribbean).  Apparently, that is not how it looks. We all need to lower our expectations, just a bit.  It is more of a small, rim or spot of green color that lasts a second or two and goes horizonal and not vertical.  A vertical flash of light is technically called a Green Ray, and is very rare.  (The web, accurate in all its information, says green flashes are not that rare <sarcasm>).  Here are some pictures of what they look like:


Your best shot of seeing one is:

  • When the sun is almost entirely below the horizon
  • On a clear day with no clouds or haze on the horizon
  • When using magnification, such as binoculars or telephoto lens on a camera
  • When the sun is nearly down.  Don’t stare at the sun until it is nearly at the horizon. The bright colors of the su,n as it is setting, may distort what you see. Just wait till right before it sets.

Two last things:

The ocean is not the only place you can see a green flash. You can see them from airplanes, balloons, tall buildings, or any place where you have a visible horizon.

And if you are a lottery winner (or just super lucky),  you might see a blue flash, where the blue light gets through the atmosphere and into your eye!

NOW that I know what I am looking for, you can find me on the beach with my binoculars at sunset, glancing down JUST until the sun sets.  Then, my eyes will search the horizon, once again for the elusive green flash.



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