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  • Writer's picturePeter

The Green Flash

I spent a large section of my life working on oil platforms and drilling rigs where on many evenings, almost too countless to number, we would either watch the sun go down in the evening or come up in the morning, or both, depending on the weather and length of day in the location we were working. Sometimes it would not set at all and other times the sun would not be seen for days on end.

Every sunrise and sunset is so different that each one is a work of art in itself. The many different reds and burnt oranges, pinks and the shades of blue as it grades to the black of night, blending together in an infinite combination of colours as the light plays on the clouds and the atmospheric conditions of the sky.

It was a moment for reflection, a time to wonder at the beauty of the world we live in and an opportunity to get away from work for a few minutes as the sun dips below or rises above the horizon.

Some of my colleagues would ask if I had seen “The Green Flash ?”

“The what ?” I replied in the very beginning

"The Green Flash of the sun" they would reply. It is a very rare moment that can be sometimes seen as the sun goes below the horizon.

Apparently; the various colours of sunlight bend different amounts based on their wavelengths; shorter wavelengths (blue, violet and green) refract more strongly than longer wavelengths (yellow, orange and red). As such, blue and violet light are scattered by the atmosphere while red, orange and yellow are absorbed, leaving the green light the most visible during the few seconds when the sun sets below or rises above the horizon.

Being quite a logical person, I could not understand why this could only be seen occasionally and not every time, but not wishing to miss out on a natural phenomenon, I spent many years just looking at the sun go down – and I never saw anything unusual.

Often, I would have every shape of setting sun imprinted on my retina, so I saw many purple disks dancing in my eyes until they had recovered and I could see clearly again.

After a lifetime of looking at the sunset, onshore, offshore, in the desert, wherever I was, I never saw the “green flash”. In my mind, I hoped to see it one day, but I rationalised it by thinking that people were just staring at the sun for too long and imagining the green they saw was something special.

A few months ago, when we arrived in Sicily for the first time, we were anchored in Trapani Harbour. Our neighbour boat at anchor was from a French couple Mari Christine and Marc, with whom we met and shared some aperitifs. I passed on some photos of Mari Christine one evening as she was taking photos of the setting sun. She said – “did you see the green flash ?” Well, no, as I was busy taking photos of people taking photos for my amusement.

The Green Flash, did it really exist and had I missed it ? Or had Mari Christine been looking at the sun too long and saw too many colours imprinted on her retina? It was curious for me to have someone else talk about the Green Flash, more than 40 years after I had heard about it for the first time and yet had never seen it.

In any case, green flash or not, every sunset and sunrise is always worth looking at of there is an opportunity.

We were returning from Corfu, (Greece) to Sicily, (Italy) during the last days of September, setting off on the 24th – which was my mum’s 90th birthday.

As Ingrid and I sat in the cockpit of the boat, we watched the sun go down as it does most days. The air was crystal clear with no dust, haze or clouds as a consequence of a few previous rainy days and a fresh breeze from the north.

It was rare to see the sun so clearly and we chatted as the sun sank lower and lower, enjoying the moment together. Just before the sun was completely gone below the horizon, maybe a ¼ still remaining there was an amazingly brilliant flash of molten emerald green pouring out of the sun and then, a moment later, it was gone.

Wow, awesome, just too much for words …….

…… and no time to take a photo, for once I was not ready ! Thinking that I had seen a million similar sunsets and I did not need another one.

What an amazing world we live in and every day brings the unexpected. Mari Christine, my old work colleagues – you were right, green flashes exist and it was worth waiting 40 years to see one. I hope my next one will come sooner !

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