Sudbury·Audio

Catch Sudbury's big red sun while you can because it won't last

The big red ball hovering in the northern Ontario skyline at sunrise and sunset may only be visible a short while longer, until forest fires are under control, says an expert at Science North's planetarium in Sudbury, Ont. 

Debris, smoke particles from nearby forest fires give sun unique look, scientist says

The sun appears as a dim red ball in the Sudbury, Ont., sky, in this photo taken by CBC producer Jan Lakes on Monday morning. (Jan Lakes/CBC)

The big red ball hovering in the northern Ontario skyline at sunrise and sunset may only be visible for a short while longer, an expert at Science North's planetarium says. 

Lucie Robillard, a science communicator with Science North, said the strange, dim star in the sky gets its ruddy appearance from debris in the air, among other sources.

"It is a natural phenomenon," Robillard said. "When light travels through our atmosphere, some of it diffracts, so if the light of the sun's right above us, there's a little less diffraction."

When the sun is low near the horizon, the light has to make its way through more atmosphere, refracting blue light and leaving mostly red.

"At sunset and sunrise, it's usually fairly red, but now it's even more red because there is even more in the atmosphere," she said.

That may include smog, particles and smoke from forest fires drifting into the region that are helping to dim the sun and "whitewash" the sky, Robillard said. 

But with a low front expected in the coming days, Robillard said, the change will likely mean the red sun will return to normal. 

The Earth's moon, also taking on a reddish rue on Saturday. The photo was taken through Science North's Celestron telescope during a Star Party, a free event held Saturdays this summer, when skies are clear. (Submitted by Lucie Robillard, Science North)

"As long as we still get a lot of those forest fire particles going our way with the wind kind of blowing it toward us and with this high humidity, we'll be able to keep seeing it," Robillard said. 

"But once that passes, it will go back to what we're used to."

Vibrant sky but low air quality

Steven Flisfeder, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, said smoke may be hanging around a little longer, as forest fires from as far away as Western Canada could be contributing to the haze.

"The smoke can go up into the upper atmosphere and then make its way all the way across the country, pretty much," Flisfeder said. "Sometimes it does get down to the lowest levels, affecting air quality and visibility."

That can be problematic for people with heart conditions or respiratory illnesses, he said. Unfortunately, he doesn't see the predicted rain ahead making much of a difference.

It's just an optical illusion, I guess you could say from the refraction of the light.- Steven Flisfeder, Environment Canada meteorologist 

"There could be another chance of showers again for northern Ontario," he said. "But unfortunately, again, not much in terms of rainfall amounts.

"And with those chance of showers, there's also the risk of thunderstorms, which is just going to be another more fuel for the fire situation, unfortunately."

As for the pretty sunsets, Flisfeder said the air particles help contribute to a "vibrant" skyline, but ultimately mean a lower level of air quality.

"It's just an optical illusion, I guess you could say, from the refraction of the light."

A science communicator with Science North’s planetarium, Lucie Robillard, explains why the sun has had such a strange appearance this past week. 5:23

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Casey Stranges is a reporter based in Sudbury. casey.stranges@cbc.ca

With files from Up North

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