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Mysterious Columns Of Light Spotted Shining Bright Across Northern US Night Sky

by : Julia Banim on : 11 Feb 2021 11:16
Mysterious Columns Of Light Spotted Shining Bright Across Northern US Night SkyNWSNorthPlatte/Twitter/Jason Herbold/Facebook

Bizarre and beautiful columns of light have been spotted shining brightly above northern areas of the US.

Mesmerising photographs, which look like they’re out of a Star Trek episode, show what appears to be aliens attempting to beam humans up to their spacecrafts. However, the reality – although interesting – is of course rooted in Earthbound phenomena.

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According to the US National Weather Service, La Crosse Wisconsin, these light pillars normally occur during cold, calm winter mornings, when temperatures dip below 10°F (-12°C).

On such mornings, plate-shaped ice crystals – usually found floating in clouds high up in the air – are close enough to the ground to create horizontal facets that reflect light downwards.

Sharing photographs taken by a meteorologist in West Salem, a Facebook post by the US National Weather Service (NWS), La Crosse Wisconsin, read:

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The pillars are not physically over the lights or anywhere else in space for that matter – like all halos they are purely the collected light beams from all the millions of crystals which just happen to be reflecting light toward your eyes or camera.

According to a tweet from the NWS, light pillars are created from reflective light sources ‘such as: street lights, the moon or the sun’, acting like a large mirror in the sky. In order for this spectacle to occur, weather conditions will need to be wind-free and stable as well as quite cold.

The pillars are said to be approximately half way between a person’s eye and the light source and, unlike the crystals required to produce sun pillars, the ones which make artificial light pillars don’t necessarily need to be strongly tilted.

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The higher up the crystals are found in the atmosphere, the taller the pillar will be, resulting in a fascinating and rather mysterious looking display for back garden stargazers.

Describing the light pillar photographs he captured earlier this week in North Platte, Nebraska, NWS Meteorologist Bill Taylor told CNN:

It was almost like I was looking at the northern lights because they were bouncing, moving and changing in appearance.

Light pillars are most commonly spotted in autumn and winter, at times when temperatures drop low enough for ice to form in the atmosphere. NWS Meteorologist Darren Snively told CNN Weather that temperatures had plummeted to -20°F (-28°C) the night Taylor’s photos were taken.

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Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: Life, ice, US, weather, Wisconsin

Credits

NWSNorthPlatte/Twitter and 1 other
  1. NWSNorthPlatte/Twitter

    @NWSNorthPlatte

  2. US National Weather Service La Crosse Wisconsin/Facebook

    @NWSLaCrosse