Glory Trails

January 18, 2006


Provided by: John A. Adam, Old Dominion University
Summary authors & editors: John A. Adam

This picture was taken on November 1st, 2005, at about 40,000 ft (12,192 m) above the Atlantic Ocean, on a flight from London to Charlotte, North Carolina. Glories are formed when light is back-scattered by individual cloud droplets, though the contributing mechanisms are not all straightforward ones. Light reflection, refraction and diffraction are involved, as well as the transformation of light waves within cloud droplets into surface waves (and vice versa).

Because shadows converge on the antisolar point, glories viewed from the air are frequently accompanied by the shadow of the aircraft one is in, especially shortly after take-off or just before landing. In this case, the cloud bank below was too far away for the shadow of the aircraft to be clearly seen, but the shadow of its condensation trail was evident, along with those from two from other aircraft. The tip of such a trail is always a good place to look for a glory, as long as it's the contrail shadow from the your plane!

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