If you are like me, chances are that on a cold winter night you’d rather cozy up on a sofa than leap in the dark and stroll down a frozen street. If this is the case, you might miss an incredible light show – I’m talking about light pillars. While light pillars look something out of this world, be assured (when you do see them) that it’s not an alien invasion, but a rare cold weather atmospheric phenomenon.
When the temperatures are well below zero and the air is calm, light sources on the ground create the surreal effect of tall light beams cutting through the dark sky. However, they are not beams at all – it’s just an optical illusion. Light pillars occur when light is refracted by ice crystals, that form close to the ground and slowly drift through the air. The crystals act like a mirror, reflecting the light both above and below the light source, while also taking its colour.
This simple phenomenon can be so incredibly beautiful and mesmerising that it is in fact responsible for many false UFO sighting reports by some of the more romantically-inclined citizens.
Written & Edited by Anna Aráoz