Riley Brook couple spot sun dogs when temperatures drop

Brenda Paget was pouring a pot of coffee for customers at her store in northwestern New Brunswick, when she spotted a bright light up in the sky.

Right away, the store owner knew what it was. 

"She said, 'Oh my God, look at the sun dog,'" said Brenda's husband, Tracey Paget. 

The couple noticed the sun dog just over a week ago outside their store, Riley Brook Holdings, in Riley Brook, a village almost 80 kilometres northeast of Perth-Andover. 

"I'm like, 'Holy shoot,'" Tracey said. "I grabbed my phone and clickety-click."

The sun dog hovered over the Tobique River for about 10 minutes.

Then it vanished.

What is a sun dog?

A sun dog, also known as diamond dust or false sun and technically known as a parhelion, consists of two lights — often  in rainbow colours — one on each side of the actual sun.

Tina Simpkin, a CBC meteorologist, said sun dogs are formed when light passes through ice crystals that exist in cirrus clouds, which are thin, wispy clouds.  

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"When the temperatures are always so cold across northern New Brunswick, a lot of ice crystals are abundant," she said. 

They're typically seen during a sunrise or sunset.

"Just because of the way the light reacts, it's refracted, so it's kind of bent towards your eye," Simpkin said. "It appears that there's a sun on either side of the sun."  

How are sun dogs formed?

There are many factors that play into the formation of a sun dog.

The ice crystals have to be a certain shape to form a sun dog: flat and hexagonal.

There need to be cirrus clouds and "no obstruction of visibility from lower level clouds." It also needs to be sunny with dry air and cool temperatures.

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"They all have to come together at the right time and the right place," Simpkin said.

Tracey said temperatures were at least –20 Celsius that day.

"When it's really cold like that, it's the perfect conditions to make those flat, hexagonal crystals," Simpkin said.

How rare are they?

Sun dogs are rarer in the summer than they are in winter, when they can be seen at least a couple of times a month.

"This is the brightest one I've ever seen," Brenda said. "Even the rainbow was really bright."

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Brenda had already spotted one sun dog this year in front of her store.

"It wasn't as bright and it was in the exact same spot," she said. 

Now, the Victoria County couple have made a point of keeping their eyes on the sky in colder weather. 

"It was a cool thing," Tracey said. "You don't see them very often."