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Picture This: Stunning Halos and Freaky Frost

While most of the weather we experience comes in standard varities, the Earth's atmosphere is capable of producing some strange, stunning phenomena if you pay enough attention. We've got a few of those gems this week, along with some beautiful views that remind you just how lovely our planet can be.

Nine, Count 'em, Nine Halos!

It’s only mid-January, but this could end up being one of the best images of 2015. The photo is a stunning example of how the atmosphere and the sun’s rays can play together to create arresting optical patterns called ice halos.

Joshua Thomas snapped the amazing shot in Red River, N.M., capturing an amazing nine separate halos, the Capital Weather Gang reported. The National Weather Service in LaCrosse, Wis., helpfully annotated the image to show what’s what. Each halo is created by a specific set of conditions involving the angle of the sun’s light and the type of ice crystals it pierces.

'Frisco's Fog

Fog is certainly not an uncommon sight in San Francisco (there are even some who call it Karl), but it sure can lead to some lovely photos. Bay Area residents took a number of scenic snaps when fog invaded on Jan. 13.

The type of fog that forms in San Francisco in the winter is called tule fog. It forms on clear, calm nights when the ground is moist. The ground rapidly radiates its heat, and the moist air above it cools, too, allowing the water vapor in it to condense.

Invasion of the Ice Spikes

The Capital Weather Gang also explained the strange, icy needles that covered Boulder, Colo., on the morning of Jan. 12.

The frozen spines are one of either two phenomena technically known as hoar frost and soft rime. They look similar (making it hard to tell which this case is) but form by slightly different processes.

Hoar frost can only form on cold, clear, still nights, CWG writes. It’s sort of the icy equivalent of dew, but both the object the ice settles on and the dewpoint must be below freezing. The water vapor in the air skips straight past the liquid phase and freezes out onto trees, fences and any other object in those spikes.

Soft rime, on the other hand, happens when liquid droplets (perhaps in the form of fog, which was seen in the area that night) freeze onto surfaces in similar spikes.

Either way, the effect is enchanting.

Sunrise and an Aurora

And last but not least, you can’t beat the truly awesome photos that astronauts are able to snap. In this photo taken by NASA’s Terry Virts, the sun is just beginning to rise in the east, while the green glow of auroras dances over the north. Beautiful.

A view of the sunrise over the eastern U.S. as auroras shine over the pole.
Credit: NASA

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