Light Pillars

Light Pillars
A light pillar display over Fairbanks on a very cold January evening in Fairbanks, Alaska. This photo was taken from the University of Alaska near the Geophysical Institute. Typically the human eye doesn’t discern a lot of color from these, but the camera picks it up well.

This phenomenon is due to the interaction of light with ice crystals in the atmosphere, so it falls into the class of halos in atmospheric optics. Light pillars are typically strongest and highest with artificial light sources. However, slightly different conditions can cause pillars with the sun and moon as well.

Light pillars are caused by ice crystals reflecting relatively strong light sources to the viewer’s eye from plate-shaped ice crystals. So there isn’t actually a pillar of light shining over the light source like with light beams, but the viewer sees the light reflected off the flat surface of the ice crystals between the observer and the light source creating a virtual image, a kind of an illusion of a beam. A pillar will look different (or not exist) depending on the position of the observer due to the amount of and altitude of the ice crystals. This can be very apparent when seeing light pillars while driving as they may change in intensity over different altitudes rapidly while moving.

Light pillars are most commonly seen when it is very cold and very calm (no wind), so that the majority of plate-like ice crystals are oriented with the faces parallel to the ground. If it’s too windy, the plates are much too randomly facing to cause this effect.

diagram of how light pillars appear to an observer by light reflecting off of hexagonal ice crystals in the atmosphere
Diagram depicting light reflecting off ice crystals forming the image of a light pillar to a distant observer. Most crystals will be approximately halfway between source and observer, however, slightly different orientations of the ice crystals will reflect from crystals slightly closer or further.

Affiliate link – I earn a commission if you shop through the link(s) below at no additional cost to you (more info)

Support This Site

Consider becoming a member to access exclusive perks and support the sustainability of this valuable resource. Already a member? Log in here!

Level

Free

Trailblazer Monthly

Explorer Monthly

Patron Monthly

Price

Free.

$3.00 per Month.

$6.00 per Month.

$10.00 per Month.

Description

golden sunlight diffuses through the dense stand of snow-laden spruce trees, casting long shadows and bathing the forest in a warm, hazy light.

  Select Select Select Select
Occasional Newsletter Yes Yes Yes Yes
Free Articles Yes Yes Yes Yes
Exclusive Content* No Yes Yes Yes
Ad-free browsing** No No Yes Yes
Discounts on Prints No No Yes Yes
Priority Responses For Questions No No No Yes
Advanced Notice On New Content No No No Yes
More In-depth Content No No No Yes
  Select Select Select Select

Free

golden sunlight diffuses through the dense stand of snow-laden spruce trees, casting long shadows and bathing the forest in a warm, hazy light.

  • Occasional Newsletter
  • Free Articles
Select

Free.

Trailblazer Monthly

  • Occasional Newsletter
  • Free Articles
  • Exclusive Content*
Select

$3.00 per Month.

Explorer Monthly

  • Occasional Newsletter
  • Free Articles
  • Exclusive Content*
  • Ad-free browsing**
  • Discounts on Prints
Select

$6.00 per Month.

Patron Monthly

  • Occasional Newsletter
  • Free Articles
  • Exclusive Content*
  • Ad-free browsing**
  • Discounts on Prints
  • Priority Responses For Questions
  • Advanced Notice On New Content
  • More In-depth Content
Select

$10.00 per Month.

* I don’t plan on hiding much content behind a paywall because I believe it should be open and accessible to all. However, maintaining this website involves a significant investment of both time and money. I spend countless hours building and writing these pages and articles and incur thousands of dollars annually to keep the site running.

Your support through membership helps cover these expenses and allows me to continue providing high-quality content. Membership allows you to access exclusive perks and content and contribute to this valuable resource's sustainability. Thank you for your support!

** Ads and affiliate links will still be shown on relevant content, like in gear reviews.

   

Add a comment

*Please complete all fields correctly

Related Posts

Granite Tors West Side
Murphy Dome Wildflowers
Upper Chena Dome Flora