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Visitors to Bonaire often arrive on the island and hear about “the green flash.”  It’s the Holy Grail of sightings when visiting Bonaire.


Exactly what is a green flash?

The green flash is an optical phenomenon that you can see just at sunset when looking westward from Bonaire’s leeward shoreline. When conditions are just right, a green flash can occur when the sun is setting with the majority below the horizon and just the barest edge of the sun is still visible. For a second or two, that upper rim of the sun might appear to turn green. Don’t blink, it’s a small, brief flash of the color green–the legendary green flash. It’s really quite exciting to see, especially if you’ve been watching for one.

What conditions are necessary to experience a green flash?

There are several conditions which must be “just right” before you can hope for a green flash on the western horizon.

  •  Although green flashes can be viewed at either sunrise or sunset, one must be on the shoreline–looking eastward for the sunrise–looking westward for the sunset.  Most visitors find that sunset works better into their vacation schedules, as they don’t want to be up and traveling toward Bonaire’s east coast before dawn.  Also, since most visitors are staying at accommodations on the leeward, western shoreline, it’s a convenience for many to simply stop for a few moments to watch the sun as it sets.
  • Check the horizon!  If there are clouds or haze on the horizon, there will not be a green flash. And sometimes even when the horizon seems clear, just as the sun sets, clouds can move in.  Don’t get frustrated, just try another day.
  • There must be a distinct edge to the horizon.  When looking westward from Bonaire, that is not a problem.  When seas are generally calm, the chances of seeing a green flash increase.

A word of caution when viewing the green flash.

  • Remember that looking directly into a bright sun can cause eye damage!  Do not look directly at the sun until it has mostly set and only the final upper edge is still visible.

The science behind the green flash.

So many ask, exactly how does the green flash occur?  As the sun moves down toward the horizon, the lower it gets the greater the thickness of atmosphere that you must view through. Those who SCUBA dive are already aware of refraction, the fact or phenomenon of light being deflected, or bent, when passing obliquely through the interface between one medium and another or through a medium of varying density. It causes items to appear closer and larger.  Additionally, absorption of the color spectrum is the reason that colors are lost as one dives deeper in the water column.  Colors are lost in the order of the visible white light color spectrum:  red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.  (Editor’s note–an easy way to remember this is the acronym, Roy G. Biv.)

In much the same manner, refraction is what occurs in a green flash.  Water vapor in the earth’s atmosphere is absorbing the yellow and orange colors in white sunlight, and air molecules scatter the violet light. Only the red and blue-green light are left to travel directly to you. When nearing the horizon, the sun’s light is highly refracted. It’s almost as though there are two suns, and this is where the optical phenomenon occurs:  a red sun and a blue-green sun–partially covering each other. The red sun is always closest to the horizon, so as it sets, your eyes see only the blue-green disk–the elusive green flash.

Perfect conditions for a green flash.
Bonaire's elusive green flash can occur just as the sun is setting.

Keep your eyes turned westward at sunset to view Bonaire’s elusive green flash!

The moral of the story is that on your next Bonaire visit, take time out at sunset to sit quietly and watch the sun go down.  After all, Bonaire sunsets are quite legendary.  Not only is it a fitting way to end another day in paradise, but you might also just get lucky with perfect conditions, and experience the Holy Grail of sunsets–the green flash!

(Source:  Wikipedia)

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Susan Davis, Bonaire InsiderSusan Davis has been living on Bonaire for over 25 years. She is a PADI Master Instructor, a certified bird guide, and an underwater and topside photographer. She also enjoys writing for The Bonaire Insider tourism news blog. 

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