Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sun pillars

A few days ago near Anchorage, Alaska, Shawn Standley went out to search for the perfect Christmas tree. A helpful column of light led him right to it:

"This spruce tree and a flock of passing waxwings was highlighted by a setting sun pillar," says Standley. "It was a beautiful sight."

Sun pillars are caused by ice in the air. Plate-shaped ice crystals flutter down from freezing clouds like leaves falling from trees. They act like thousands of little mirrors reflecting the light of the setting sun into a towering pillar--or Christmas-tree finder, as the case may be.

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