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Sunset Green Flash

Ask the Big Kahuna

“Answering the most common visitor questions”


I have heard people talk about the “green flash” they’ve seen over the ocean. Is this just a symptom of too much sun and too many mai-tais?

Scottsdale, AZ


Dear Scotty-
Ahh… the much coveted Green Flash… I won’t say “Beam me up the Green Flash, Scotty.”

No, the Green Flash is not a promiscuous frog. The Green Flash is a fleeting splash of intense emerald light appearing on the horizon in the blink of an eye just after sunset (or immediately before sunrise). Alas, Hawai’i is one of the best places on earth to view this natural phenomena.

When trying to eye the Green Flash don’t be fooled by the so-called “Fool’s Flash” — the greenish after-image burned into your retina by looking directly into the sun before going permanently blind. Remember, looking directly at the sun’s disk is always dangerous.

The Green Flash is best seen when the sun sets into the ocean and only when the view is absolutely clear (cloudless) all the way to the horizon — making the Green Flash much less frequent than the Big Kahuna would like. While awaiting the Green Flash at sunset, look away until only the very top of the sun’s disk is about to disappear below the horizon – it’s only during this last instant when the Green Flash is visible and only for a moment. The Green Flash is truly one experience you could blink and miss.

Sparing you the astro-physics, the phenomenon responsible for the Green Flash also paints rainbows across Hawaii’s sky. (OK, a little science for those interested: A rainbow is created when rays of sunlight enter a raindrop, bounce around inside, and exit. Light from the sun consists of a spectrum of colors, each bent by a different amount inside a raindrop. This unequal bending of sunlight, called dispersion, ultimately sends forth a rainbow of colors from each raindrop. A variation on this light-bending theme makes the Green Flash happen, since green is bent the most at sunset.)

Forget the technical explanation and pack a picnic dinner, favorite beverage, head to the west side of your favorite island, put a blanket on the sand, hope for a clear horizon, and wait for the fleeting flash. Even if you don’t bag the ephemeral Green Flash, you get to catch a fun time on the beach with good company in a great spot.

Jules Verne in his 1882 novel “Le Rayon Vert” (The Green Ray) popularized the green flash in this way: “…a green which no artist could ever obtain on his palette, a green of which neither the varied tints of vegetation nor the shades of the most limpid sea could ever produce the like! If there is a green in Paradise, it cannot be but of this shade, which most surely is the true green of Hope.” Hmmm… sounds like Hawaii.

Happy Hunting!

Big Kahuna