Photographer captures rare phenomenon as flakes of ice create illusion

Photographer captures rare natural phenomenon as freezing temperatures and tiny flakes of ice create illusion of light pillars reaching into the night sky above Canada

  • The rare shafts of light appeared due to the sub-zero temperatures in Lacombe in Alberta, Canada
  • The phenomenon is caused by the reflection of light through ice crystals floating in the atmosphere
  • A vertical band of light appears above or below lights sources, in this case above buildings on the horizon
  • The optical illusion is caused by the light bouncing off miniature flakes at various distances in the frigid air  

A photographer has captured stunning images of a rare natural phenomenon as freezing temperatures and tiny flakes of ice create an illusion of light pillars reaching into the night sky above Canada.

Darlene Tanner took the unusual photos of the atmospheric optical phenomenon in Lacombe, Alberta in Canada this week as temperatures plunged to -30C.

She also took some shots of the rare light pillars in the town of Blackfalds in Alberta as the low temperatures helped to create the right conditions.

The gorgeous natural phenomenon occurs on rare occasions when the air is cold enough for tiny ice particles to fill the air and reflect light to form the optical illusion known as ‘light pillars’

The light pillars form an optical illusion which makes it appear as if the buildings on the horizon are beaming searchlights into the sky


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Corridors of light extend into the atmosphere as millions of horizontal ice flakes at various altitudes reflect the light from street lights and houses into the sky

An array of the man-made light colors spread upwards from the horizon, in sodium yellows and bright xenon whites

Tanner said: ‘Light pillars are very unusual, the conditions have to be just right, very cold with ice crystals.’

Light pillars are created by the reflection of light from millions of tiny ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere.

They form a vertical band of light which appears to extend above a light source – in this case the lights from buildings.

But the ice crystals spread across varying horizontal distances and heights to the viewer makes them appear as if they are going up in a continuous vertical from one point.

The crystals responsible for the pillars gather together to act as a giant mirror, which reflects the light source upwards or downwards into a virtual image.

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