Light pillars, An Incredible Optical Phenomenon

Dec 31, 2011 2 comments

Sometimes during very cold weather, vertical columns of light beaming directly upwards are visible. These are called light pillars and are created by the reflection of light from ice crystals with near horizontal parallel planar surfaces. The light can come from the Sun (usually at or low to the horizon) in which case the phenomenon is called a sun pillar or solar pillar. It can also come from the Moon or from terrestrial sources such as streetlights. Light pillars are typically seen in polar regions.

Light pillars appear when artificial light or natural light bounces off the facets of flat ice crystals wafting relatively close to the ground. When the light source is close to the ground, the light pillar appears above the floating crystals. When the light comes from the sun or moon, the light pillar can appear beneath them, too, as the light refracts through the crystals.


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Arctic air combines with river steam and a corn milling plant's steam to produce light pillars over Blair Nebraska, thanks to ice crystals floating in the air from the steam sources.  A setting moon adds to the scene, creating a light pillar of its own.

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Source: National Geographic


  1. I've seen plenty of pics of solar ones but never of city lights. Very cool... You should cover sun dogs too. I learned the basics of meteorology in high-school (and the rest in college) but in the U.S. it's not taught so most people don't know very many optical phenomena. That's why this site is so great: it teaches people what they weren't taught, in just the right size so they don't pass the text over, and with photo illustrations. You're doing a great service!

  2. This is AMAZING!!!! you should get some more pictures of the sun dogs too.This is just AMAZING.


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