Atmospheric Optical Phenomena
(except Rainbows and Auroras)

Sun pillar
haloSun pillar

Below is a checklist of Atmospheric optical phenomena (except Rainbows and Auroras) on postal items (stamps, souvenir sheets, aerogrammes, postal cards, etc.). Catalog numbers, years of issue, and notes on the items featured are given when available. If readers know of additional information or images, please contact the authors using the e-mail addresses at the bottom of this page.

Atmospheric Optical Phenomena: Definition

We define atmospheric optical phenomena to be the visual results of:

  1. The interaction of light from the Sun or the Moon with certain components of the atmosphere (cloud water droplets or ice crystals, liquid or solid precipitation, dust, water vapour and the gases of the atmosphere itself) or with certain atmospheric structures (such as the vertical distribution of temperature and/or humidity); or
  2. The interaction of charged particles from the sun (the solar wind) with certain atmospheric gases.

Atmospheric Optical Phenomena included in this page:

The following phenomena fall under part 1 of the above definition, and philatelic items referring to them are included in this page.



The term for various circles or arcs of light around the sun or Moon, caused by reflection and refraction of light as it moves through ice crystals in the atmosphere. If colors are present the reddish tones are at the inner part of the rings. Halos are large - in the most common halo, the angle between the centre and the ring is 22 degrees (approximately the angle defined by the span of a hand at arm's length, as in this example), but other even larger halos are also possible.

Corona (diffraction ring around the Sun or Moon, not the corona composed of plasma surrounding the Sun)

One or more diffuse concentric rings of light around the Sun or Moon, formed by diffraction of light as it moves through water droplets in the atmosphere; the rings may have more color than halos. In a corona the reddish tones are at the outer part of the rings. Coronas usually occur in the presence of thin clouds, but a particular type, known as the Bishop's ring corona, occurs in the absence of clouds. It is caused by scattering of light from very small (~ 1 micrometer, or 1/1000 of a mm) particles, usually stratospheric dust or ash or sulphate droplets from volcanic eruptions that are suspended in the atmosphere. Bishop's ring coronas can be larger than the usual coronas associated with thin clouds, which are smaller than halos. The central bright area of a corona is called the aureole. It appears as a whitish or bluish-white disk that fades to a pale reddish-brown toward the circumference of the disk. It may be the only visible part of the corona, particularly for those associated with the Moon. The aureole of a lunar corona can be enhanced if seen through a cloud layer that is not too thick and/or has breaks.
Sun dogs

Sundog (mock Sun, or parahelion)

A type of halo consisting of a pair of bright spots to the left and right of the Sun.
Sun pillar

Sun pillar

A vertical shaft of light extending upward or downward from the Sun, generally seen when the Sun is very low in the sky, and caused by reflection of sunlight from ice crystals that form high, thin cirrostratus clouds.


One or more diffuse concentric rings of colored light around a shadow image of an object projected on a cloud of refracting water droplets. Each ring is red on the outside and bluish toward the centre. To see a glory, the observer must be between the Sun and the cloud, so it often seen from aircraft. C.T.R. Wilson saw a glory while working as an observer at the Ben Nevis weather station in Scotland, and that sight inspired him to study clouds and eventually led to the development of his cloud chamber.

Subsun (virtual Sun)

A special type of halo that appears as an enlongated mirror image of the Sun in the clouds. It is seen only when the clouds are observed from above, and is caused by reflection of sunlight from the flat ice crystals of which the clouds are composed.
crepuscular rays

Crepuscular rays

Rays of light that appear to radiate from the location of the Sun in the sky, caused by sunlight streaming through cloud gaps and emphasized by the cloud-shadowed regions where no sunlight is streaming. Their apparent convergence toward the sun is a perspective effect.
cloud iridescence

Cloud iridescence

Colors in clouds similar to those seen in oil films in puddles, due to diffraction of light by small water droplets or ice crystals. Such colors can occur in high-level cirrus clouds or in mid-level altocumulus clouds or in some polar stratospheric clouds known as nacreous clouds or mother-of-pearl clouds. The color patterns tend to be unordered or chaotic, with a pastel look to them. Image credit: C Messier - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14697774
circumhorizontal arc

Circumhorizontal arc

Circumhorizontal arcs are visually similar in some ways to cloud iridescence, but are in fact part of the halo family. Their color patterns are ordered, in approximately horizontal bands, with red at the top and colors changing downward to blue at the bottom. The misleading term "fire rainbow" is sometimes used for this phenomenon.
refraction effects

Atmospheric refraction effects and mirages (related to unusual vertical temperature gradients near the surface)

If the surface is very hot and the temperature decreases rapidly upward (e.g. above asphalt on a hot day under the hot sun of the desert) then light curves upward and an observer may see a mirage of apparent water (actually light from the sky) on the ground. Conversely, in a strong inversion in which the temperature increases rapidly with height (this is common in polar areas), light is bent downward in varying ways and amounts so that an observer may see misleading images of distant objects (larger, smaller, stretched, compressed, floating or distorted). The Fata Morgana is one example of such an effect.


Airglow (also called nightglow) is the faint emission of light by the upper atmosphere. The phenomenon was first identified in 1868 by Swedish physicist Anders Ångström. Airglow is caused by various upper atmospheric processes, such as the recombination of atoms which were photoionized by the Sun during the day, luminescence caused by cosmic rays striking the upper atmosphere, and chemiluminescence caused mainly by oxygen and nitrogen reacting with hydroxyl free radicals at heights of a few hundred kilometres. Airglow is visible only at night.

Atmospheric Optical Phenomena not included in this page

Sky Color

The usual blue sky color (or the red/orange sky when the sun is very low) can be considered as an atmospheric optical phenomenon. It is caused by Rayleigh scattering of sunlight by air molecules. Horace de Saussure invented the cyanometer, an instrument that measures the blueness of the sky. Clouds have different colors as well: usually white in sunlight, they can appear grey by contrast where sunlight does not strike them, and red or orange in the light of the rising or setting Sun. Philatelic items that depict sky color and cloud color, despite their potential beauty, are not included in this page. However, items that mention sky color or cloud color in the context of scientific observations and research are included.


Lightning can be considered as a type of atmospheric optical phenomenon, but it does not fall under the definition given above. Selected philatelic items referring to lightning are included in the Thunderstorms and Lightning page. No attempt will be made to provide a complete listing of the large number of such items.

Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and Aurora Australis (Southern Lights)

The Earth's auroras fall under the second part of the definition above. Selected philatelic items referring to the auroras as seen either from the Earth's surface or from space are found in the Auroras page. No attempt will be made to provide a complete listing of the large number of such items. Auroras are also related to the topic of space weather. In that page a few aurora items are included: those showing auroras as seen from space or for which the reference to them is secondary to the space weather topic itself.


Part 1 of the general definition of "Atmospheric Optical Phenomena" (near the top of this page) includes rainbows. Selected philatelic items referring to rainbows are found in the Rainbows page, in which we include only a small sample of all rainbow-related items (either those which also refer to an independent meteorological topic, or a few others that strike our fancy). No attempt will be made to provide a complete listing of the large number of such items.

Launch covers
(including anniversary-of-launch covers, and launch-related event covers)
(farther below)
Other postal items
(stamps, souvenir sheets, aerogrammes, postal cards, etc.)
(immediately below)
Atmospheric optical phenomena Atmospheric optical phenomena

Below is a list of Atmospheric optical phenomena on postal items (stamps, souvenir sheets, aerogrammes, postal cards, etc.).

CountryCatalog NumberType of ItemYear of IssueNotes on Content
Atmospheric optical phenomena
Armenia1000 (Mi?)2014Crepuscular rays
Ascension Island351 (Mi?)1984Solar corona
Australian Antarctic TerritoryL4 fdc (Mi1 fdc)(WCS) cachet on FDC1957(unrealistic) artistic rendition of a halo with multiple rings
Australian Antarctic TerritoryL1-L3+L5 fdc (Mi2-5 fdc)(WCS) cachet on FDC1959Artistic rendition of a halo
Australian Antarctic TerritoryL18 (Mi18)1966Large sundog (probably part of a halo)
Australian Antarctic TerritoryL63 (Mi?)1985Bishop's ring corona
Australian Antarctic TerritoryL75 (Mi73)1986Halo
Australian Antarctic TerritoryL75 fdc1Stamp on FDC (Melbourne VIC cancel)
Australian Antarctic TerritoryL75 fdc2Stamp on FDC (Brisbane QLD cancel)
Australian Antarctic TerritoryL189 fdc (Mi? fdc)Back of FDC, also front2015"In the freezing dry atmosphere of the Australian Antarctic Territory, frozen water vapour remains in the air as suspended ice crystals. The reflection of light on these crystals creates some spectacular atmospheric effects such as solar pillars, sun dogs and solar halos".
Australian Antarctic TerritoryL191 (Mi?)One of strip of 2 (L191a (190-191)), or one of MS4 (L191b (188-191))Bright crepuscular rays
Bolivia1422-1423 fdc (Mi1801-1802 fdc)Cachet on FDC2010Halo (but drawn too small to be a realistic depiction)
British Antarctic Territory198 (Mi199)Also gutter pair1992"Sun pillar at Faraday" (Antarctic research station)
British Antarctic Territory199 (Mi200)Also gutter pairSolar corona (inner bright area) and "Halo (22 degrees)" (outer circle)
British Antarctic Territory201 (Mi202)Also gutter pairIridescent "nacreous clouds"
British Antarctic Territory198-201 fdcThree of four stamps on FDC, also insert and insert back(As above); also sun pillar (in fdc cachet)
Canada1578 (Mi?)From booklet of 10 (BK184a: 1578b (2x 1578a (1574-1578)))1995Sundog (faint colored area in sky at upper left of stamp)
Canada2838c (Mi?)From MS5 (2838 (a-e + label))2015Halo and sundogs
Canada2838 fdcMS5 on FDC, also back
Canada2838 sheetPress sheet (containing 6x MS5)
Canada2843 (Mi?)Two of self-adhesive booklet of 10 (2843a (2x (2839-2843))) with cover
Central African RepublicBL1045 fdcCachet on FDC2013Halo
ChadC206 (Mi776)To right of stamp-on-stamp: Germany C401977Complex halo with sundogs and sun pillar
ChileC118 (Mi?)1946Radio transmission theme; the circle is probably intended to show the outer ring of a compass. Also, there is no Moon or sun drawn at the center of the circle, so while it does look like a halo at first glance, that resemblance is coincidental.
ChileC119 (Mi?)1948
ChileC136 (Mi449)Watermark 2151952Double halo
ChileC156 (Mi480)1951Double halo
China (People's Republic)1025a (Mi?)1969Bishop's ring corona
China (People's Republic)NonePostal card2003Subsun (virtual sun)
China (Taiwan)1604 (Mi?)1969Bishop's ring corona
Finland1045 maxi (Mi? maxi)Cachet on maxicard1997Crepuscular rays
FinlandUnknown (Mi2696)From booklet of 10 (10x unknown)2020(Poorly-drawn) lunar halo
French Southern and Antarctic TerritoriesC134 (Mi337)1995Sundogs at Charcot station (Antarctica)
GermanyNonePostcard back, also front1898Crepuscular rays
Germany (West)1353 (Mi?)1981(Faint) Bishop's ring corona at von Neumayer station (Antarctica)
Germany (West)1353 maxiMaxicard
Germany3081 (Mi3441)From MS10 (3081a (10x 3081))2019"Luftspiegelung der Sonne" (Solar mirage) (in this case, the mirage is a distortion of the rising or setting Sun due to refraction of light in a polar or winter temperature inversion)
Germany3080-3081 fdcOne of two stamps and (Deutsche Post) cachet on FDC
Germany3082 (Mi3445)Self-adhesive, from booklet pane of 20 3083a (10x (3082-3083)) (Mi3445-3446)
Ghana2573 (BL480)SS12007Hypothetical Martian halo (in left margin); apparent Bishop's ring corona (on stamp and in left margin) (though it is not known if such coronas even exist on Mars)
Greenland268 (Mi247)1994Complex halo, including sun pillar and tangential arc
Greenland268-269 fdc1One of two stamps on FDC
Greenland268-269 fdc2One of two stamps on FDC (different)
GrenadaUnknown ms (Mi?)In background of MS4 (a-d)2015Halo
GrenadaUnknown ss (BL?)In background of SS1
Guinea-BissauUnknown ms (Mi?)In (right) margin of MS4 (a-d)2008Crepuscular rays
GuyanaUnknown (Mi?)One of MS2 (a-b)2014Apparent halo (though the design shows the sun as seen from space, in which case the circle around it can not in fact be an atmospheric halo)
Iceland247 (Mi?)1948Crepuscular rays
Israel25 fdc (Mi54 fdc)Cachet on FDC1950City apparently floating in the air (an example of the Fata Morgana)
Italy2940 (Mi?)2009Lunar corona
Italy2940 cardCard, also back
JapanNonePostal card?Distortion of the rising or setting Sun due to refraction of light in a polar or winter temperature inversion (a solar mirage)
JapanNonePostal card?Cloud iridescence
JapanNonePostal card?Glory (text says "halo in fog created by reflected sunlight" but that is misleading: the glory and the halo are completely different phenomena)
Korea (South)NoneBack of postal card, also front2016Crepuscular rays
LiberiaMi2904One stamp and in (left) margin of MS17 (Mi2893-2909 + label)2000"Glory"
Liechtenstein1399 (Mi1466)2007Halo
Liechtenstein1399 maxiMaxicard
Liechtenstein1397-1399 fdcOne of three stamps on FDC
Monaco853 (Mi1059)1972Crepuscular rays
Monaco853 fdcStamp on FDC
MozambiqueUnknown ss (BL?)On stamp of SS12019Crepuscular rays
MozambiqueUnknown ss fdcSS1 and cachet (design like stamp on SS1)
Netherlands1165-1166 fdc (Mi2193-2194 fdc)(NVPH) cachet on FDC2004Crepuscular rays (in one of five images)
Niuafo'ou172d (Mi267)One of strip of 5 (172 (a-e)) (Mi264-268)1994Crepuscular rays
Niuafo'ou172d specimen172d overprinted "specimen"
Niuafo'ou172d proof1172d monochrome proof
Niuafo'ou172d proof2172d cromalin proof
Niuafo'ou172 proof1172 imperforate proof
Niuafo'ou172 proof2172 imperforate proof (different)
Norway260 (Mi226)1943Halo (these are the earliest known stamps that depict any of the atmospheric optical phenomena treated in this page)
Norway264 (Mi230)
PolandNone1994 postal card (with cancel)1995Crepuscular rays
Poland4137b (Mi?)From strip of 4 (4137 (a-d)), or from MS12 (4137e (3x (a-d)))2014Photograph and diagram of complex halo
Poland4137 fdcOne of strip of 4 on FDC
Romania3464 (BL234)SS11987Solar and lunar halos in a depiction of a Romanian folk tale by Petre Ispirescu
RomaniaNoneCachet on postal card2003Lunar corona
RomaniaNoneCachet on stamped envelope2005?Crepuscular rays; also flood
RomaniaNoneCachet on cover2011Crepuscular rays
RomaniaNoneCachet on cover2011Halo
Ross Dependency (New Zealand)L60 (Mi65)1999Iridescent "Mother of pearl clouds, Ross Island"
Russia (USSR)C67 (Mi508)1935Crepuscular rays
Russia (USSR)C90 (Mi?)1949Halo and sun pillar
Russia (USSR)3110 (Mi3129)1965Halo
Russia7293 (Mi?)From MS6 (7293a (6x 7293))2011Solar corona
Russia7708 (BL228)Stamp (Mi2268) on SS12016Aureole of a lunar corona (seen through breaks in the clouds), Moonlit Night on the Dnieper, painting by Arkhip Kuindzhi
Russia7708 fdcSS1 on FDC
SingaporeUnknown1 (Mi?)2014Solar corona and possible parahelion to left of Sun
SingaporeUnknown2 (Mi?)Halo (but drawn too small to be a realistic depiction)
United StatesNonePostcard back, also front1913Crepuscular rays
United States3878b (Mi3866)
3878b back
From MS15 (3878 (a-o)), also back2004"cirrostratus fibratous clouds occur mostly in winter and often produce a halo effect around the sun or the Moon"
United States3878b fdc1Stamp on FDC (ArtCraft cachet)
United States3878b fdc2Stamp on FDC (MLL cachet)
United States3878b fdc3Stamp and (BGC) cachet on FDC
United States3878b fdc4Stamp on FDC (? cachet)
United States3878b fdc5Stamp and (Fleetwood) cachet on FDC, also back
United States3878b fdc6Stamp and (William) cachet on FDC
United States3878b fdc7Stamp and (William) cachet (different) on FDC
United States5071 fdc (Mi5245 fdc)(Bullfrog) cachet on FDC2016"Airglow"
United States5298a (Mi5498)One of MS20 (5298 (a-t)) (Mi5498-5517)2018Crepuscular rays

Below is a list of Atmospheric optical phenomena on launch covers (including anniversary-of-launch covers, and launch-related event covers).

CountryCancel DateCancel LocationType of ItemNotes on Content
Atmospheric optical phenomena
United States1967-11-06Cape Canaveral FL (machine cancel)(Orbit Covers) cachet on ATS-3 launch cover"Sunrise & sunset cloud color changes"
United States1967-11-06Cape Canaveral FL (hand cancel)(Orbit Covers) cachet on ATS-3 launch cover
United States1973-11-16Cape Canaveral FL(Orbit Covers) cachet on Skylab-4 launch cover"Airglow photography"
Japan1981-01-22Uchinoura(Space Voyage) cachet on (sub-orbital) rocket launch cover"Observation of [the] night temperature airglow"
United States1992-03-24Kennedy Space Center FLInsert from STS-45 launch cover, also (mission patch) front"The colors of the setting Sun, measured by sensitive instruments [of ATLAS1-1], provide detailed information about ozone, carbon dioxide and other gases which determine climate and environment"

1ATLAS: Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science

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