Sunday, December 19, 2010

Photographer captures glowing 'solar spike' on freezing winter morning

Like a giant laser striking the Earth from space, this image looks like the first attack in an alien invasion. But this remarkable image is a rare and natural phenomenon called a solar spike - caused by wintery ice crystals in the Earth's upper atmosphere refracting light from the sun.

Father-of-two Randy Knauf, 51, an amateur photographer from Allegan, Michigan, spotted the amazing sight as he traveled to work last week and jumped out of his car to capture the moment on camera.

A solar spike seen on the morning of December 7th in Allegan, Michigan. The sight id caused by wintery ice crystals in the Earth's upper atmosphere refracting light from the sun.

Baffled by the strange vision that lasted for 10 minutes, he asked a friend - a local TV weatherman - to explain and learned it was a 'solar spike'. In the UK the phenomenon is also known as a sun pillar and is a vertical column of light above and sometimes below the sun.

It is caused by the reflection of sunlight from ice crystals and is most often observed at sunrise or sunset when the sun is low to the horizon.

Mr Knauf said: 'He told me they happen only when the upper atmosphere of the planet is very still and cold, at sunset or sunrise, and in areas where there is a lot of moisture up there but not enough to make clouds.'

'In Michigan we have the Great Lakes, which gives us the moisture, and it's extremely cold at the moment.'

Describing the moment, he added: 'I had just rounded a curve and was looking directly into the sunrise when I noticed the solar spike. 'The Great Lakes contain one fifth of all of the fresh water in the world, so we have a lot of moisture in the air here.

'It lasted for about 10 minutes after I shot this image and it was a beautiful and bizarre thing to see. I'm not certain how long the effect was taking place prior to my seeing it, bu

t I'm told they stay for around 15 minutes maximum.

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