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Green Flash

Green Flash

By Royston Ellis


For something really unusual that’s not seen in many parts of the world, watch out for the Green Flash.

No, it’s not the name of a lurid cocktail dreamed up by a barman and served on the terrace of your hotel. It’s something to watch for as the sun sets over the Indian Ocean.

The first requirement is a cloudless sky and an unrestricted view of the ocean and the horizon from Sri Lanka’s west coast.

Tourists in other tropical countries, such as the Maldives and the Caribbean islands, and on ocean cruising liners have boasted sightings of the Green Flash. It does exist, even though the sceptical claim it’s a myth.

It is a sunny phenomenon of nature that, when conditions are right, can be glimpsed as you sip that sun-downer on a sea-view bar terrace.

It’s not actually a flash so much as something that flashes by in a nanosecond. Blink and you’ll miss it.

It occurs as the sun sinks towards the horizon in a flaming orange ball. Watch carefully, but be careful not to be dazzled by the sun or you’ll miss the flash. It’s a sudden – and very short – pinprick of green emphasising the majestic beauty of the setting sun’s bright orb.

Of course, science has an explanation for this magic of nature. It has been described as an atmospheric event caused by a scattering of light by molecules in the atmosphere. It is light refracted by air. Factually, it’s the last bit of sun coloured green by the sea when it disappears below the horizon. The crowning rim of the sun appears green and red on the horizon: when the sun sets, the green halo is the last to disappear.

The Green Flash is extremely rare, but it can be seen, even accidentally, from hot spots along the west coast; perhaps from the beach at Negombo, from Colombo’s Galle Face Green promenade, or from sandy coves along the west coast from Kalutara to Galle.

If you’re not lucky enough to witness it, don’t worry; sunsets seen from Sri Lanka’s western shores are sensational. Even when there are clouds gathering along the horizon, watching the sun descend gracefully at dusk is an inspiring experience. The sky immediately after sunset outshines an artist’s palette with golden glows and sapphire blues as a back drop to cotton clouds stretched across the sky as dusk rapidly descends.

Even if you never see the Green Flash, it’s fun to wait and watch – and then to have that cocktail.

Royston Ellis ( is a British author resident in Sri Lanka since 1980