Harlan Thomas is a photographer who spends his nights photographing the night’s sky of Calgary, Canada, often working through the night to capture images rarely seen by people who aren’t night owls. The startling image was actually not the intended subject of his outing on Monday.
“Off on another chase of the Noctilucent Clouds, I decided to leave early to catch the sun setting and some sunset images,” Thomas wrote on his Facebook page.
Noctilucent clouds, or night-shining clouds, are tenuous cloud-like phenomena in the upper atmosphere of Earth visible only during local summer months and when the Sun is below the observer’s horizon, but while the clouds are still in sunlight.
“I was disappointed when the clouds rolled in and covered pretty much the entire sky except for a sliver on the western horizon,” he wrote. “As I was shooting the setting sun I looked over my shoulder, and my mouth dropped to my knees! There was a rainbow that looked close enough to touch! I have never seen a full sunset rainbow before and I managed a few shots in the pouring rain. The first shot is when the sun was just setting and the second shot was after the sun had set.”
The spiritual implications of the image were not lost on Thomas.
“My positive post today is about light and what happens when there is a lack of light. How do you deal with it? I know from experience that light leaves and returns just like the sun setting and the sun rising. And that is where something called “Faith” comes into play, everyday we experience that moment of faith.”
“Today’s images are called “Rainbow Faith”, these shots of a rainbow were taken as the sun set and one of them the sun is fully below the horizon, have faith people.”
The reactions to his photo were, understandably, of a religious nature, commenting on the image which is a startling rendition of one of the most recognizable signs of the covenant between Man and his Creator. The artist responded with equanimity and scientific detachment.
“No it’s not a sign of end of times, the “Red Rainbow is caused by the diffraction of the light, lower wavebands light such as blue, yellow, green, cannot make it through the rain and because the sun is so low on the horizon natural phenomena just rare.”
In the end, even he acknowledged the religious effect of the sight.
“ And yes we should cry out ‘Hosanna in the Highest’,” Thomas wrote.
Normally exhibiting red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, the colors of the visible spectrum, the reddening seen in the photos is caused by the scattering of sunlight by small dust particles and the air molecules themselves. When appearing at sunset, highly reddened light suffuses the landscape and casts a narrow red-hued rainbow with only traces of other colors. All of the other colors of the rainbow are scattered by air molecules and dust particles in front of the low-hanging sun.