"Polar regions are famous for mirages and early explorers sometimes wondered what was real and what illusion," notes atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley. "In Dicks' picture, several air layers of different temperature have distorted and sliced the sun. Its rays are bent as they pass between the layers to form multiple images, some inverted and some upright."

Dicks is a veteran observer of South Pole sunrises. "This is my third winter here," he says. Some sunrises are heralded weeks ahead of time by a diffuse glow on one side of the sky and the retreating shadow of Earth ("a dark blue band topped by a fringe of magenta") on the other. Eventually a sliver of sun appears, circling the horizon for days, growing in size, until finally the sun emerges in full. "When it's clear, the show is amazing. This year, we were mostly clouded out until Sept. 21st. I feel bad for folks on their first and maybe only winter-over; they missed the full sunrise."

When you're at the South Pole, though, even a fraction of sunrise can be a wonderous thing.

SOLAR WIND LOSING POWER: In a briefing yesterday at NASA HQ, solar physicists announced that the solar wind is losing pressure, hitting a 50-year record low for the Space Age. This development has repercussions across the solar system: full story