A 22° halo around the Moon in Atherton, California

Optical phenomena are any observable events that result from the interaction of light and matter.

All optical phenomena coincide with quantum phenomena.[1] Common optical phenomena are often due to the interaction of light from the Sun or Moon with the atmosphere, clouds, water, dust, and other particulates. One common example is the rainbow, when light from the Sun is reflected and refracted by water droplets. Some phenomena, such as the green ray, are so rare they are sometimes thought to be mythical.[2] Others, such as Fata Morganas, are commonplace in favored locations.

Other phenomena are simply interesting aspects of optics, or optical effects. For instance, the colors generated by a prism are often shown in classrooms.

A solar halo as seen from 41° south latitude


Optical phenomena include those arising from the optical properties of the atmosphere; the rest of nature (other phenomena); of objects, whether natural or human-made (optical effects); and of our eyes (Entoptic phenomena). Also listed here are unexplained phenomena that could have an optical explanation and "optical illusions" for which optical explanations have been excluded.

There are many phenomena that result from either the particle or the wave nature of light. Some are quite subtle and observable only by precise measurement using scientific instruments. One famous observation is of the bending of light from a star by the Sun observed during a solar eclipse. This demonstrates that space is curved, as the theory of relativity predicts.

Atmospheric optics

A circumzenithal arc over Grand Forks, North Dakota
The Belt of Venus over Paranal Observatory atop Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert, northern Chile[3]
Crepuscular rays at sunrise in Malibu, California

Atmospheric optical phenomena include:

A double rainbow at Minsi Lake, Pennsylvania
Atmospheric optical phenomenon

Non-atmospheric optical phenomena

Green flash appears above the solar disc for a second or so. One such occurrence was taken from Cerro Paranal.

Other optical effects

Entoptic phenomena

Main article: Entoptic phenomenon

Optical illusions

Main article: Optical illusion

Unexplained phenomena

See also: Forteana, Will-o'-the-wisp, and Unidentified flying object

Some phenomena are yet to be conclusively explained and may possibly be some form of optical phenomena. Some[weasel words] consider many of these "mysteries" to simply be local tourist attractions that are not worthy of thorough investigation.[4]

See also


  1. ^ Lahiri, Avijit (2016). "Electromagnetic Theory and Optics". Basic Optics: Principles and Concepts. Elsevier. pp. 1–140. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-805357-7.00001-0. ISBN 978-0-12-805357-7.
  2. ^ "Green Rays". mintaka.sdsu.edu.
  3. ^ "Belt of Venus over Cerro Paranal". Picture of the Week. ESO. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  4. ^ "Welcome to Phenomenon! Your guide through the mysterious and unexplained". www.stateoftheart.nl.
  5. ^ Philip Mantle. "The Hessdalen Lights". Archived from the original on 4 April 2005. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  6. ^ "UQ scientist unlocks secret of Min Min lights".
  7. ^ "Big Thicket National Preserve Virtual Field Trip". Archived from the original on 4 March 2005.
  8. ^ Gagliardi, Jason (17 November 2002). "Behind the Secret of the Naga's Fire". Archived from the original on January 19, 2007 – via www.time.com.


Ozerov, Ruslan P.; Vorobyev, Anatoli A. (2007). "Wave Optics and Quantum–Optical Phenomena". Physics for Chemists. pp. 361–422. doi:10.1016/B978-044452830-8/50008-8. ISBN 978-0-444-52830-8.

Further reading