While it may have looked like something out of an alien invasion movie, a fantastic light show in spotted Northern Canada was sadly (or fortunately) caused by very terrestrial forces.
Using his smartphone camera, Timothy Elzinga was able to capture a series of brilliant shafts of pastel-colored lights in the early morning sky above his home in Ontario, Canada.
“We can blame the two-year-old. He started crying at 1:30 a.m., so I got up and soothed him … and out the window I had the perfect view of these dancing lights in the sky,” Elzinga told CBC News. “I had to investigate. I got some pants on and ran outside and took some photos.”
People came out onto the street in the freezing weather to watch the lights as they changed colors. (Timothy Joseph Elzinga)
Not the Northern Lights
One might suspect that the Northern Lights are behind this phenomenon, but the cause was actually weather related. Ice falling from substantial altitudes caused the pillars that Elzinga saw, NASA said. On cold, wintry nights, smooth ice crystals that generally take up residence high in the atmosphere can come falling closer to the ground. These fluttering ice crystals are occasionally called crystal fog. When the tiny bits of ice reflect lights from cars and other sources on the ground, the effect can be fantastic streams of light known as “light pillars.”
“It looked like someone from Star Trek was trying to beam people up,” Elzinga said. “It was very bright in person, like nothing I’ve ever seen. It almost seemed supernatural.”
While light pillars are a somewhat rare phenomenon, people living in northern latitudes are used to seeing lights in the sky, specifically the Northern Lights. In 2015, NASA launched rockets into the Northern Lights above Alaska to learn more about the Earth’s magnetosphere and understand the mechanism behind the dancing motions of the famed lights.
“Is the light dancing around in a pattern that’s different from the electrical currents?” asked Charles Swenson, a space weather researcher at the Utah State University who was involved in the study. “The visible aurora is very dynamic, and beautiful—you can see changes that happen in fractions of seconds, and in a few minutes it can explode across the sky or disappear. We think the underlying voltages and currents, the ‘invisible aurora,’ are equally dynamic, but we do not know.”
Image credit: Timothy Joseph Elzinga
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