Historic Solar Events at the Straits: The Parhelion of 1671

The solar eclipse which will take place on August 21 will be the first total eclipse of the sun visible across the entire United States in nearly 100 years. The path of the totality of the eclipse (the area where the moon will perfectly align with the sun, momentarily but completely blocking the view of the sun from the ground) will pass south of the Straits of Mackinac, but viewers in northern Michigan will still be able to see the moon block about 75% of the sun.

An example of a sun dog.

An example of a sun dog.

Historically, other solar events were visible at the straits. Of particular note was the parhelion observed at the Mission of St. Ignace on March 16, 1671. A parhelion, or sun dog, occurs when the sun’s light is refracted and scattered by ice crystals suspended in the upper atmosphere. This bent light creates one and sometimes two bright spots flanking the sun, usually linked by a faint halo of light. Two sun dogs were visible to the Jesuit missionaries and Huron converts living at the mission, then located on Mackinac Island. The priests, including the mission’s founder, Fr. Claude Dablon, used the three lights in the sky as an opportunity to teach about the holy trinity. At the Sault Ste. Marie mission, an unidentified Jesuit drew the phenomenon, which at times apparently included as many as eight bright lights in the sky.

If you get a chance to observe the eclipse on August 21 (the greatest extent of the eclipse should occur in northern Michigan beginning around 2:20 in the afternoon), remember to do so safely, with proper eye protection. Also remember that people living here have been fascinated by solar phenomena for hundreds of years!

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