The Sundog Phenomenon


Featured Image by Sebastien Saarloos

Sundogs, also known as mock suns or “parhelia”, are a pair of brightly colored spots, one on either side of the sun. You will often see a broken rainbow effect or a circular outline around the sun and at times various reflective arcs accompany the phenomenon. Sundogs form as sunlight is refracted by hexagonal plate-like ice crystals with diameters larger than 30 micrometers and their flat faces horizontally oriented. Due to the mock sun appearance, it may often look as if there are three suns or extra rays of light beaming through the sky.

Alien skeptics are trying to use the existence of sundogs as an ancient astronaut derailing tool, saying that people who thought they had seen aliens flying or fighting in the sky may have been fooled by rare views of sundogs. The most famous event they are trying to debunk with this theory is that of the Nuremburg “space battle” of April 4th,1561, in which residents of Nuremburg, Germany witnessed an arial battle of rods, orbs, black balls, “plates” and crosses battling it out much like a dogfight that you would hear about from our own history.

Two artists created two different famous woodcuts depicting the event, showing witnesses, the battle of the heavens (as they called it), and even falling crafts crashing to the ground. Every witness that spoke of the event said that after the fighting had ended, a large arrow-like ship arrived and smaller craft came from it and soon afterwards many vanished into the sun or flew away. I personally don’t see how a sundog could have done all of that, and even a confused witness in the 1500’s would have had a hard time coming up with such a story. I do believe, however, in the possibility that there was a sundog phenomenon in the sky on the same day as the Nuremburg battle.


Sundogs have had a fair share of historical recognition, dating as far back as the times of Aristotle – he had written that “two mock suns rose with the sun and followed it all through the day until sunset.”

In 1461, Edward IV and his troops were about to go on the battlefield when they witnessed a full parhelion with three suns and he used the phenomenon to assure his frightened men that it represented the Holy Trinity which was on their side during battle. They were very successful on the fields that day.


StockholmStockholm Sweden, Image by Peter Rosen – 2009

If you are lucky you might even witness a few sundogs in your lifetime, as for the Nuremburg space battle and other such events, that’s a different conversation altogether. There are many whom believe, and then… there are those whom do not.

~ William C. Raustler