LIGHT PILLAR PICTURES: Mysterious Sky Shows Explained

LIGHT PILLAR PICTURES: Mysterious Sky Shows Explained
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February 18, 2009--A light pillar rises over the setting sun at Lake Tahoe, California, in February 2000.

Though light pillars are often caused by artificial light, sun pillars, as in the above picture, occur when sunlight reflects off the facets of millions of flat ice crystals in very cold air.

The vertical light streaks, which often lengthen and brighten after sunset, can take on the reds, yellows, and purples of the sun and clouds surrounding them, according to the Web site Atmospheric Optics.

Unlike similar-looking lens flares--optical effects caused by camera lenses--light pillars can be seen with the naked eye.

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— Photograph courtesy James Kirkpatrick
 
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