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​Find past newsletter articles, press releases, and other media showcasing local agriculture, placed-based education, and conservation of natural resources in Sullivan County.

Light Pillars

Last Saturday evening I witnessed an atmospheric phenomenon on my way home from a friends house that looked similar to the northern lights to me. I didn't realize what I was seeing until I noticed pictures of it the next day on Facebook and then I saw it on the news.

The spectacular phenonmenon I observed are called light pillars.

They're formed when flat, hexagonal-shaped ice crystals reflect lights from the surface. The crystals are normally found in high-level clouds, but when it's very cold, they find their way closer to the ground.

WBZ-TV meteorologist Sarah Wroblewski said Saturday's conditions were perfect for the optical phenomenon.

"Ice crystals can be made up of all sorts of shapes and sizes, but those six-sided ice crystals can stack on top of each other like a dinner plate, and act like mirrors," she said. "When they are suspended above a light source near the ground like a streetlamp, the light bounces off that flat crystal and then the next one and the next one and so on, creating this narrow column of light beaming into the sky above. So while it may look like aliens are invading from the clouds, the light you see is actually coming from the ground. A pretty cool sight to see!"

Plate-shaped ice crystals, form at temperatures of 14° to -40° Fahrenheit. Snowflake Bentley created a thermometer that shows the conditions that these hexagonal plates and other ice crystals form at.


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