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Journal of the Optical Society of America

Journal of the Optical Society of America

  • Vol. 69, Iss. 8 — Aug. 1, 1979
  • pp: 1080–1083

Iridescence in an aircraft contrail

Kenneth Sassen  »View Author Affiliations

JOSA, Vol. 69, Issue 8, pp. 1080-1083 (1979)

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The available diffraction-corona theory for the interpretation of the cloud iridescence phenomenon is reviewed and applied to photographic observations of an iridescent contrail. It is concluded that the simple-diffraction theory qualitatively explains the occurrence of corona and iridescence under the cloud microphysical conditions with which these phenomena are typically associated, and that the theoretical predictions of cloud droplet diameters of 1–3 µm during initial contrail formation appear to be reasonable for a highly supersaturated environment. However, additional Mie theory simulations utilizing narrow droplet size distributions should be performed to assess the impact of anomalous diffraction in realistic cloud compositions in order that iridescence observations may be more precisely interpreted for cloud microphysical studies.

© 1979 Optical Society of America

Kenneth Sassen, "Iridescence in an aircraft contrail," J. Opt. Soc. Am. 69, 1080-1083 (1979)

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  1. W. J. Humphreys, Physics of the Air (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1929).
  2. M. Minnaert, The Nature of Light and Color in the Open Air (Dover, New York, 1954).
  3. R. A. R. Tricker, Introduction to Meteorological Optics (American Elsevier, New York, 1970).
  4. H. C. van de Hulst, Light Scattering from Small Particles (Wiley, New York, 1957).
  5. See H. Appleman, "The formation of exhaust condensation trails by jet aircraft," Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 31, 14–20 (1953), for a discussion of the meteorological aspects of contrail formation. Note, however, that these contrails appeared to form at a temperature several degrees warmer than the predicted critical temperature required to produce water saturation under the conditions derived from the sounding.
  6. The simulation through ray tracing methods of most ice crystal refraction phenomena provides a means to sense remotely the types and orientations of the ice crystals present in each case (see, e.g., Ref. 3).
  7. G. C. Simpson, "Coronae and iridescent clouds," Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 38, 291–299 (1912).
  8. Although ice crystals are to be expected to produce coronas on the basis of diffraction theory using simplified ice particle shapes (see Refs. 1 and 4), this has apparently not been observed to be the case in the atmosphere. It may be that the proper conditions of minute, monodispersed ice crystal populations with the same shape and orientation are rarely, if ever, realized in atmospheric ice clouds.
  9. A first step in such a program was recently discussed by F. E. Barmore, R. Crouch, and R. Lloyd at the Topical Meeting on Meteorological Optics [see "Iridescence in an aircraft contrail," Technical Digest Topical Meeting on Meteorological Optics, Keystone, Opt. Soc. Am., MB3-1-2 (1978)].

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