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What are "light pillars?"

Bill Fangmeier captured photo of light pillars on Thursday evening (December 30, 2021).
Posted at 2:18 PM, Dec 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-31 16:18:34-05

GREAT FALLS — Bill Fangmeier captured this photo of light pillars and shared it with KRTV. He shot the picture east of Great Falls on Thursday evening (December 30, 2021).

Light pillars are not necessarily common, but they are quite eye-catching. So what are they?

KRTV meteorologist Ryan Dennis says that tiny snow crystals in the atmosphere reflect light and when those snow crystals are spread throughout the atmosphere in a vertical direction, like they were on Thursday, then it makes light pillars form (at least that's what we see...it is really just an optical illusion)!

From the Accuweather website: "Light pillars are an optical phenomenon caused when light is refracted by ice crystals. These lights tend to take on the color of the light source."

The website Atmospheric Optics explains: "The pillars are not physically over the lights or anywhere else in space for that matter ~ like all halos they are purely the collected light beams from all the millions of crystals which just happen to be reflecting light towards your eyes or camera. The crystals producing the pillars are roughly halfway between you and the lights. When ice crystals float in the air around you, pillars (and other halos) can even be seen around streetlights a few metres away."