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Sundogs Visible Around Sun

Sundogs are colored spots of light that develop due to the refraction of light through ice crystals. The colored spots of light are seen around 22 degrees either to the left or right or on both sides of the sun. 

Rock Valley, Iowa

Driving Question

  • How do sundogs happen?

Probing Questions

  • What do you think will happen when the sun passes through ice crystals rather than water? 
  • What times of year do you think would be best for seeing sundogs, and why? 

Classroom Suggestions

  • Show students the experiment of putting a paper with an arrow behind a glass of water and then adding water in the glass and seeing how the arrow changes direction which shows the refraction of light. 
  • Set items around the room for students to find. Examples include foil, wax paper, lampshade, mirror, clear plastic bag, cardboard, sponge, sunglasses, block, sheer fabric and sequins. Give each group of students a flashlight to use as their beam of light to shine on each object they are observing. Have students go around the room and look for examples of items that reflect light, absorb light, refract light, and transmit light, and write them down as well as their observations in their notebook to share with classmates at the end of the search.
  • Hands-on vocabulary notebooks: Talk about transparent, translucent and opaque and define them in their notebooks. In order to make this a more visual and hands-on experience, place examples taped in their notebook as well to give them visuals. For instance, tape a piece of plastic wrap for transparent, a piece of wax paper for translucent, and a piece of cardstock for opaque. You can do this with “reflect,” “absorb,” and “refract" as well, using foil, black colored paper, and a drawing of a lens. 
  • Use prisms to create rainbows and learn more about the refraction of light and what happens to light when it reflects off of a glass prism. 

Relevant Related Resources

  • What is a Sundog? | Wonderopolis: This website is a great source that describes what a sundog is and why it forms. Students can look through it and find different pictures of sundogs. This website also highlights important vocabulary words, which is helpful for students. There is also an option to listen to the article being read rather than reading it for students who struggle with reading. 
  • The book Sun Dog and this resource reading guide manual | Pajama Press: This includes a lot of information about how to read this book and help students think about what they are reading, and what activities to do to learn more about light and the sun. 
  • Five Cool Rainbow Facts for Kids | Tom’s of Maine: This website includes information about rainbows as well as sundogs. Students can compare them to each other based on the facts that they already know about both. 
  • Five Ideas for Teaching Light | The Science Penguin: This website includes ideas about how you might go about teaching concepts related to light for elementary aged kids. 

Iowa Core Alignment


Plan and conduct an investigation to determine the effect of placing objects made with different materials in the path of a beam of light

Credit Info

Phenomena submitted by Crystal Brummel and Abbie Kuiper.

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