Science behind the pillar of light
Vera DeWitt snapped this great photo today, just before the sun came up over Mount Delight New Brunswick. A delight indeed!
Published Tuesday, January 31, 2017 11:33AM AST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 31, 2017 11:46AM AST
Every morning, Grandma made a point of checking the clouds. She believed that clouds could tell us a lot about the incoming weather. Every once in a while she spotted something quite magical. This morning, Vera Dewitt did too; she came across an optical illusion called a sun or solar pillar.
A sun pillar is a vertical shaft of light seen reaching upward from the setting or rising sun. Sun pillars form when sunlight reflects off the surfaces of falling ice crystals associated with thin, high-level clouds, most often cirrostratus clouds. Since they are caused by the interaction of light with ice crystals, light pillars belong to the family of halos.
The crystals responsible for light pillars usually consist of flat, hexagonal plates, which tend to fall more or less horizontally through the air. Their collective surfaces act as a giant mirror, which reflects the light up and sometimes down. The bigger the crystals, the more pronounced this effect becomes.
Now, this is a tough one to grasp, but the pillar is not physically over the light source, in this case the sun. Like all halos, they are simply the collected light beams from all the millions of crystals which just happen to be reflecting light towards your eyes!
A little science to help Mother Nature with the magic!