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12/05/2015

What in the world are those giant beams of light???

Travis Branum from North Vernon shared these beautiful, but eerie photos of giant vertical beams of colored light that appeared over North Vernon Indiana early this morning.  

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So what is it?

These are called "light pillars" and are pretty rare around these parts.

What caused it?

Light pillars are created through the reflection of light off of numerous tiny ice crystals .

According to wikipedia: "The crystals responsible for light pillars usually consist of flat, hexagonal plates, which tend to orient themselves more or less horizontally as they fall through the air. Their collective surfaces act as a giant mirror, which reflects the light source upwards and/or downwards into a virtual image. As the crystals are disturbed by turbulence the angle of their surfaces deviates some degrees from the horizontal orientation, causing the reflection (i.e. the light pillar) to become elongated into a column. The larger the crystals, the more pronounced this effect becomes. More rarely, column-shaped crystals can cause light pillars as well"

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Light pillars over Laramie Wyoming in winter night - Light pillar - Christoph Geisler
 
The combination of a dense fog and air temperatures in the 20's allowed the water droplets in the fog to freeze into ice crystals allowing the phenomon to occur.  

This same combo of dense fog and subfreezing temps also contributed to the formation of widespread hoar frost and rime ice.  It made for a neat scene this morning in many locations.  

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Rime ice on vegetation in Crawford County.  Photo via NWS Louisville.  Credit: Wade Bell

Very neat to see!  

WDRB Meteorologist Jeremy Kappell

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