I knew something was up when I got a Facebook post about a big aurora in the southwestern sky over Duluth last night. Huh? No aurora at my place, so I quickly checked a few aurora sites online. Nothing there either. Ten minutes later I was in the car on my way to pick up my daughter at the airport and it hit me. Light pillars.
Not far from the airport a long bank of snow hid the glare of lights shining from our Air National Guard airbase, but above them rose tall, colorful rays that could have easily been mistaken for the aurora borealis. Ice pillars form on very cold nights when countless ice crystals – often not even noticed with the eye – gently flutter to the ground with the their flat faces parallel to the ground. They reflect the lights below like tiny mirrors to create pillars of spikes of light above bright artificial light sources.
I see them most often in approaching car headlights when the glare of the lights is still hidden by a rise in the road. They remind me of antennae. When your car is parked with the lights on, look just ahead of the beams and you’ll see the individual crystals sparking in the light.
As we learned a couple weeks back, winter is the time for all kinds of fascinating light crystal phenomena – halos, sun dogs, arcs, light pillars, coronae and more. All you need to do is look up, something all of you are already very good at doing.