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.
We define atmospheric optical phenomena to be the visual results of:
The following phenomena fall under part 1 of the above definition, and philatelic items referring to them are included in this page.
HaloThe 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.
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 pillarA 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.
GloryOne 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 raysRays 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 iridescenceColors 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 arcCircumhorizontal 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.
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.
AirglowAirglow (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.
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.
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.
(including anniversary-of-launch covers, and launch-related event covers)
|Other postal items
(stamps, souvenir sheets, aerogrammes, postal cards, etc.)
|Atmospheric optical phenomena||Atmospheric optical phenomena|
Below is a list of Atmospheric optical phenomena on postal items (stamps, souvenir sheets, aerogrammes, postal cards, etc.).
|Country||Catalog Number||Type of Item||Year of Issue||Notes on Content|
|Atmospheric optical phenomena|
|Armenia||1000 (Mi?)||2014||Crepuscular rays|
|Ascension Island||351 (Mi?)||1984||Solar corona|
|Australian Antarctic Territory||L4 fdc (Mi1 fdc)||(WCS) cachet on FDC||1957||(unrealistic) artistic rendition of a halo with multiple rings|
|Australian Antarctic Territory||L1-L3+L5 fdc (Mi2-5 fdc)||(WCS) cachet on FDC||1959||Artistic rendition of a halo|
|Australian Antarctic Territory||L18 (Mi18)||1966||Large sundog (probably part of a halo)|
|Australian Antarctic Territory||L63 (Mi?)||1985||Bishop's ring corona|
|Australian Antarctic Territory||L75 (Mi73)||1986||Halo|
|Australian Antarctic Territory||L75 fdc1||Stamp on FDC (Melbourne VIC cancel)|
|Australian Antarctic Territory||L75 fdc2||Stamp on FDC (Brisbane QLD cancel)|
|Australian Antarctic Territory||L189 fdc (Mi? fdc)||Back of FDC, also front||2015||"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 Territory||L191 (Mi?)||One of strip of 2 (L191a (190-191)), or one of MS4 (L191b (188-191))||Bright crepuscular rays|
|Bolivia||1422-1423 fdc (Mi1801-1802 fdc)||Cachet on FDC||2010||Halo (but drawn too small to be a realistic depiction)|
|British Antarctic Territory||198 (Mi199)||Also gutter pair||1992||"Sun pillar at Faraday" (Antarctic research station)|
|British Antarctic Territory||199 (Mi200)||Also gutter pair||Solar corona (inner bright area) and "Halo (22 degrees)" (outer circle)|
|British Antarctic Territory||201 (Mi202)||Also gutter pair||Iridescent "nacreous clouds"|
|British Antarctic Territory||198-201 fdc||Three of four stamps on FDC, also insert and insert back||(As above); also sun pillar (in fdc cachet)|
|Canada||1578 (Mi?)||From booklet of 10 (BK184a: 1578b (2x 1578a (1574-1578)))||1995||Sundog (faint colored area in sky at upper left of stamp)|
|Canada||2838c (Mi?)||From MS5 (2838 (a-e + label))||2015||Halo and sundogs|
|Canada||2838 fdc||MS5 on FDC, also back|
|Canada||2838 sheet||Press sheet (containing 6x MS5)|
|Canada||2843 (Mi?)||Two of self-adhesive booklet of 10 (2843a (2x (2839-2843))) with cover|
|Central African Republic||BL1045 fdc||Cachet on FDC||2013||Halo|
|Chad||C206 (Mi776)||To right of stamp-on-stamp: Germany C40||1977||Complex halo with sundogs and sun pillar|
|Chile||C118 (Mi?)||1946||Radio 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.|
|Chile||C136 (Mi449)||Watermark 215||1952||Double halo|
|Chile||C156 (Mi480)||1951||Double halo|
|China (People's Republic)||1025a (Mi?)||1969||Bishop's ring corona|
|China (People's Republic)||None||Postal card||2003||Subsun (virtual sun)|
|China (Taiwan)||1604 (Mi?)||1969||Bishop's ring corona|
|Costa Rica||Unknown ms (Mi?)||In (left) margin of MS2 (a-b)||2020||Similar to crepuscular rays, except in this case the Sun is partially blocked by tree foliage rather than clouds|
|Finland||1045 maxi (Mi? maxi)||Cachet on maxicard||1997||Crepuscular rays|
|Finland||1611 (Mi2696)||From booklet of 10 (1611a (10x 1611))||2020||(Poorly-drawn) lunar halo|
|French Southern and Antarctic Territories||C134 (Mi337)||1995||Sundogs at Charcot station (Antarctica)|
|Germany||None||Postcard back, also front||1898||Crepuscular rays|
|Germany (West)||1353 (Mi?)||1981||(Faint) Bishop's ring corona at von Neumayer station (Antarctica)|
|Germany (West)||1353 maxi||Maxicard|
|Germany||3081 (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)|
|Germany||3080-3081 fdc||One of two stamps and (Deutsche Post) cachet on FDC|
|Germany||3082 (Mi3445)||Self-adhesive, from booklet pane of 20 3083a (10x (3082-3083)) (Mi3445-3446)|
|Ghana||2573 (BL480)||SS1||2007||Hypothetical 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)|
|Greenland||268 (Mi247)||1994||Complex halo, including sun pillar and tangential arc|
|Greenland||268-269 fdc1||One of two stamps on FDC|
|Greenland||268-269 fdc2||One of two stamps on FDC (different)|
|Grenada||Unknown ms (Mi?)||In background of MS4 (a-d)||2015||Halo|
|Grenada||Unknown ss (BL?)||In background of SS1|
|Guinea-Bissau||Unknown ms (Mi?)||In (right) margin of MS4 (a-d)||2008||Crepuscular rays|
|Guyana||Unknown (Mi?)||One of MS2 (a-b)||2014||Apparent 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)|
|Iceland||247 (Mi?)||1948||Crepuscular rays|
|Israel||25 fdc (Mi54 fdc)||Cachet on FDC||1950||City apparently floating in the air (an example of the Fata Morgana)|
|Italy||2940 (Mi?)||2009||Lunar corona|
|Italy||2940 card||Card, also back|
|Japan||None||Postal card||?||Distortion of the rising or setting Sun due to refraction of light in a polar or winter temperature inversion (a solar mirage)|
|Japan||None||Postal card||?||Cloud iridescence|
|Japan||None||Postal 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)||None||Back of postal card, also front||2016||Crepuscular rays|
|Liberia||Mi2904||One stamp and in (left) margin of MS17 (Mi2893-2909 + label)||2000||"Glory"|
|Liechtenstein||1397-1399 fdc||One of three stamps on FDC|
|Monaco||853 (Mi1059)||1972||Crepuscular rays|
|Monaco||853 fdc||Stamp on FDC|
|Mozambique||Unknown ss (BL?)||On stamp of SS1||2019||Crepuscular rays|
|Mozambique||Unknown ss fdc||SS1 and cachet (design like stamp on SS1)|
|Netherlands||1165-1166 fdc (Mi2193-2194 fdc)||(NVPH) cachet on FDC||2004||Crepuscular rays (in one of five images)|
|Niuafo'ou||172d (Mi267)||One of strip of 5 (172 (a-e)) (Mi264-268)||1994||Crepuscular rays|
|Niuafo'ou||172d specimen||172d overprinted "specimen"|
|Niuafo'ou||172d proof1||172d monochrome proof|
|Niuafo'ou||172d proof2||172d cromalin proof|
|Niuafo'ou||172 proof1||172 imperforate proof|
|Niuafo'ou||172 proof2||172 imperforate proof (different)|
|Norway||260 (Mi226)||1943||Halo (these are the earliest known stamps that depict any of the atmospheric optical phenomena treated in this page)|
|Poland||None||1994 postal card (with cancel)||1995||Crepuscular rays|
|Poland||4137b (Mi?)||From strip of 4 (4137 (a-d)), or from MS12 (4137e (3x (a-d)))||2014||Photograph and diagram of complex halo|
|Poland||4137 fdc||One of strip of 4 on FDC|
|Romania||3464 (BL234)||SS1||1987||Solar and lunar halos in a depiction of a Romanian folk tale by Petre Ispirescu|
|Romania||None||Cachet on postal card||2003||Lunar corona|
|Romania||None||Cachet on stamped envelope||2005?||Crepuscular rays; also flood|
|Romania||None||Cachet on cover||2011||Crepuscular rays|
|Romania||None||Cachet on cover||2011||Halo|
|Ross Dependency (New Zealand)||L60 (Mi65)||1999||Iridescent "Mother of pearl clouds, Ross Island"|
|Russia (USSR)||C67 (Mi508)||1935||Crepuscular rays|
|Russia (USSR)||C90 (Mi?)||1949||Halo and sun pillar|
|Russia (USSR)||3110 (Mi3129)||1965||Halo|
|Russia||7293 (Mi?)||From MS6 (7293a (6x 7293))||2011||Solar corona|
|Russia||7708 (BL228)||Stamp (Mi2268) on SS1||2016||Aureole of a lunar corona (seen through breaks in the clouds), Moonlit Night on the Dnieper, painting by Arkhip Kuindzhi|
|Russia||7708 fdc||SS1 on FDC|
|St. Thomas and Prince Islands||Unknown ms fdc|
Unknown ims fdc
|(Multi-color printed) cachet on FDC|
(Multi-color printed) cachet on imperforate-stamped FDC
|Singapore||Unknown1 (Mi?)||2014||Solar corona and possible parahelion to left of Sun|
|Singapore||Unknown2 (Mi?)||Halo (but drawn too small to be a realistic depiction)|
|United States||None||Postcard back, also front||1913||Crepuscular rays|
|United States||3878b (Mi3866)|
|From MS15 (3878 (a-o)), also back||2004||"cirrostratus fibratous clouds occur mostly in winter and often produce a halo effect around the sun or the Moon"|
|United States||3878b fdc1||Stamp on FDC (ArtCraft cachet)|
|United States||3878b fdc2||Stamp on FDC (MLL cachet)|
|United States||3878b fdc3||Stamp and (BGC) cachet on FDC|
|United States||3878b fdc4||Stamp on FDC (? cachet)|
|United States||3878b fdc5||Stamp and (Fleetwood) cachet on FDC, also back|
|United States||3878b fdc6||Stamp and (William) cachet on FDC|
|United States||3878b fdc7||Stamp and (William) cachet (different) on FDC|
|United States||5071 fdc (Mi5245 fdc)||(Bullfrog) cachet on FDC||2016||"Airglow"|
|United States||5298a (Mi5498)||One of MS20 (5298 (a-t)) (Mi5498-5517)||2018||Crepuscular rays|
Below is a list of Atmospheric optical phenomena on launch covers (including anniversary-of-launch covers, and launch-related event covers).
|Country||Cancel Date||Cancel Location||Type of Item||Notes on Content|
|Atmospheric optical phenomena|
|United States||1967-11-06||Cape Canaveral FL (machine cancel)||(Orbit Covers) cachet on ATS-3 launch cover||"Sunrise & sunset cloud color changes"|
|United States||1967-11-06||Cape Canaveral FL (hand cancel)||(Orbit Covers) cachet on ATS-3 launch cover|
|United States||1973-11-16||Cape Canaveral FL||(Orbit Covers) cachet on Skylab-4 launch cover||"Airglow photography"|
|Japan||1981-01-22||Uchinoura||(Space Voyage) cachet on (sub-orbital) rocket launch cover||"Observation of [the] night temperature airglow"|
|United States||1992-03-24||Kennedy Space Center FL||Insert 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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