If you’re fortunate enough to experience a beautiful sunset in Hawaii, consider yourself already one of the lucky ones! But, if you have the opportunity (or dumb luck) to see the green flash in Hawaii during sunset, you may want to buy a lottery ticket — you’re one of the few who’ve been lucky enough to experience this incredible phenomenon!

WHAT IS A GREEN FLASH?

According to Live Science, a green flash, which occurs more commonly at sunset — but can also occur at sunrise — is a phenomenon in which part of the sun can be observed suddenly and briefly changing color. It usually lasts only a second or two — which is why it is referred a flash — as the sun changes from red or orange at sunset, for example.

WHY DOES IT OCCUR?

Sunset with tide pools in the foreground

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Dustin Lefevre

The green flash occurs at sunset, right as the sun disappears on the horizon.

Live Science reports that the green flash is viewable because refraction bends the light of the sun. The atmosphere acts as a weak prism, which separates light into various colors. When the sun’s disk is fully visible above the horizon, the different colors of light rays overlap to an extent where each individual color can’t be seen by the naked eye.

As the sun sinks into the Pacific, its last light seems to glow green. This “green flash,” caused by light refracting in the atmosphere, is rarely seen. When the sun starts to dip below the horizon the colors of the spectrum disappear one at a time, starting with those with the longest wavelengths to those with the shortest. At sunrise, the process is reversed, and a green flash may occur as the top of the sun peeks above the horizon.

It is a primarily a green flash because more green light gets through and therefore is more clearly seen. Sometimes, when the air is especially clear, enough of the blue or violet light rays make it through the atmosphere, causing a blue flash to be visible. However, green is the most common hue reported and captured in photos.

WHERE CAN I SEE THE GREEN FLASH IN HAWAII?

Big Island coast at sunset

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Larry Marshall

Even if you miss the green flash, you won't be disappointed by any of Hawaii's many scenic coastlines.

While there is no optimal condition that will guarantee a green flash sighting, a green flash is best observed with a clear view of the horizon and in an area that is free of pollution. It is more likely to see a green flash when there is visibility of several miles, almost to the point of the curvature of the earth, and the sky is cloudless, according to Live Science.

Green flash sightings frequently occur at the ocean, where more of the atmosphere is visible and the line of sight is virtually parallel to the horizon. Prairies also have the appropriate conditions for a green flash sighting.

In Hawaii, we have low air pollution and LOTS of horizons — that’s why The Aloha State is a great place to see the green flash. If you’ve booked an all-day tour, such as an Oahu Circle Island Tour, through Hawaii Aloha Travel, ask your tour professional if you can stop and see the green flash if conditions allow. If you see it, you can count yourself among the lucky few who have experienced this incredible phenomenon!


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