A photographer has taken some rather amazing photos of an unusual phenomenon known as “light pillars”.
Vincent Brady from Charlotte, Michigan snapped the images above Whitefish Bay, which is on the eastern edge of Lake Superior. One of his images was featured as NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day recently, too.
Light pillars can look almost alien-like in appearance, with the beams of light seemingly extending into space. They have an Earthly explanation though – they’re the result of cold air carrying flat ice crystals, which reflect artificial lights to produce the odd effect. Wind turbines are producing that effect in the image above.
“Light pillars have become one of my favorite subjects,” Brady told IFLScience. “They're a unique atmospheric phenomenon that occurs when the temperature drops to single digits, but more likely when it's subzero and wind is calm.
“As moisture rolls in it becomes crystallized, often referred to as 'diamond dust.' You can see it glistening in lights, seemingly defying gravity and dancing through the air. As the ice crystals float over light sources they reflect and refract light and produce what appear as light pillars. Seeing them is a visual treat.”
The crystals also sometimes melt as they approach the ground, which can give the pillars the added odd effect of appearing to hover in the air. “You can think you’re seeing some sort of alien invasion,” said Brady.
Interestingly, it’s not just artificial lights that can produce light pillars. The Sun can do it too, an effect known – you guessed it – as a Sun pillar. The same thing is happening here, with the Sun’s light reflecting off ice crystals to create a beam of light. The Moon can also produce the same effect (we’ll let you work out the name).
Sun pillars are best seen when the Sun is low in the sky. Light pillars, meanwhile, can be seen throughout the night when there are plenty of artificial lights available to cause the effect. Just make sure you wrap up warm if you try to spot them, as it’s probably going to be pretty chilly if they are visible.