Candles in the Dark

October 05, 2015

Light PillarsEart

Photographer: Sergio Montúfar
Summary Authors: Sergio Montúfar; Jim Foster

These unusual light pillars appeared over Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, during the evening of July 20, 2015. Despite the prediction of partial cloud cover, I couldn't resist the chance to try to take images of the Milky Way on this midwinter night. I positioned myself near the Salado River, and soon after setting up my equipment I noticed a light pillar in the direction of the town of Castelli, about 30 mi (48 km) away. Then I saw a second light pillar in the direction of Guerrero. As I was packing up, I observed the multiple pillars shown above -- an amazing sight. I had never seen anything like this before.

As is the case with Sun pillars observed near sunrise or sunset, these artificial light pillars are caused by oriented ice crystals (hexagonal plate crystals) approximately 1 mm in diameter. In essence, light is reflected from the underside of the plate crystals toward the viewer.

Photo Details: Seven vertical image panorama; Sony a7 camera; 14mm Rokinon lens;  2.8 second exposure; ISO 800; taken at 00:00 Universal Time.