The Green Flash

05/06/2014 12:36

Written by Royston Ellis

sunset galle front colombo by AsiaTravel shutterstockThe sun setting over the coast of Colombo © AsiaTravel, Shutterstock

It’s not the name of a cocktail served on the veranda of the Galle Face Hotel, but the Galle Face Green is an ideal place to watch for the Green Flash. The first glimpse of it usually happens by accident. Tourists on the beach, whether in Bentota or Negombo, peering at the horizon as the sun dips towards the sea in a flaming orange ball, rub their eyes in disbelief at the sudden prick of green emphasising the majestic beauty of the setting sun’s bright orb.

There are those who maintain the Green Flash doesn’t exist because they have never seen it. However, just because the Green Flash can only be seen on a cloudless horizon doesn’t mean it’s a fable. Sunsets seen from Sri Lanka’s western shores are sensational. Even when there are clouds gathering along the horizon, watching the sun descend gracefully at dusk is a breathtaking experience. And if the sky is clear, a fraction of a second after the crown of the sun has sunk below the horizon, there it is: the Green Flash. It can be just a pinprick of turquoise green, or a lingering wink of a jade-eyed sea monster.

There have been several scientific papers written about the Green Flash. It has been described as an astronomical or rather an atmospheric event caused by a scattering of light by molecules in the atmosphere. It is light refracted by air. One expert (imagine being an expert in Green Flashes!) describes it as the last bit of sun coloured green when the sun sinks below the horizon. The top rim of the sun appears green and red on the horizon; when the sun sets the green rim is the last to disappear.

Another expert points out that the actual Green Flash, a green flame above the point where the sun sets below the horizon a few seconds after sunset, is ‘extremely rare’. Anyway, it’s fun to watch out for it in Sri Lanka, where the sunsets are memorable and sometimes do, indeed, end with a Green Flash.

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