There were so many good comments and questions about the sun pillar, that I went hunting for that older picture. As you can see, I found it. I knew I had written about it before, and that was in December 2005. At that time, I was the web site manager for the North Country Trail Association, and did a near-daily news item.
That morning, a friend wrote me that he had seen a sun pillar over Detroit. He described it as extending about 30 degrees into the sky. That was really unusual, as they usually are 20 degrees at the most. A quick and dirty method of estimating this is to extend your hand toward the sun. A handwidth is about 10 degrees.
The picture today is a sun pillar that I saw from my kitchen window at sunrise on December 20, 1999. If you compare it with the picture from yesterday you will see how much taller this one is. I think it was probably also more than a 20-degree pillar. Yesterday's was just about ten degrees.
Pillars take on the colors of the sun and clouds, they can appear white and at other times shades of yellow, red or purple. They can be seen both at sunrise and sunset.
As a result of that article, another friend from Ohio wrote to me:
"My wife and I live in a fairly rural community and we see these "sun pillars" often in the morning when going to our jobs. It is probably due to the fact we both are driving east south-east directly into the rising sun and yes, it is during the colder winter months when we see them. They are awesome. We observe about a dozen a year. We'll even stop both our vehicles on a back country road on the way to work and observe them together and discuss how unusual they appear to be."
These are not the same thing as Sun Dogs, although both appear as a result of ice crystals in the atmosphere.
They only last for a few minutes, as far as I know. They are like rainbows, in the sense that they are simply a phenomenon of bent light (reflected for pillars, refracted for rainbows). Since the sun or moon has to be very low on the horizon for the angles to be right, as the light source moves, the reflection disappears.
Thanks for so much interest in this wonderful event!
|See Sun Pillar|