Coronas and iridescence in mountain wave clouds

Appl Opt. 2003 Jan 20;42(3):476-85. doi: 10.1364/ao.42.000476.


We use Fraunhofer diffraction theory and meterological data to determine the nature of cloud-particle distributions and the mean particle sizes required for interpreting photographs of coronas and iridescence in mountain wave clouds. Traditional descriptions of coronas and iridescence usually explain these optical phenomena as diffraction by droplets of liquid water. Our analysis shows that the photographed displays have mean particle sizes from 7.6 to 24.3 microm, with over half the cases requiring diffraction by small (approximatley 20 microm) quasispherical ice particles rather than liquid water droplets. Previous documentation of coronas produced by ice particles are limited to observations in cirrus clouds that appear to be composed of small ice crystals, whereas our observations suggest that coronas and iridescence quite often can be created by tiny quasispherical ice particles that might be unique to mountain wave clouds. Furthermore, we see that the dominant colors in mountain wave-cloud coronas are red and blue, rather than the traditionally described red and green.