Ice Pillars over Saint Cloud

This past Saturday night, I noticed an interesting light display in the skies over Saint Cloud. It looked like an odd version of aurora, a bunch of lit-up columns of light running vertically into the sky, but unlike aurora, they were not moving in any way. Today, one of my former students showed me some photos taken by his cousin, SCSU student and local artist Dan Mondloch. They were beautiful and exactly what I had seen. To quote Dan:

* I took [these photos] on Saturday Night, December 3rd around 9:30 to 10:00 pm. I took them [near] Seberger Park.

A quick discussion with Dave Williams revealed he had seen this odd display also and as it turns out he had also found out what it was. It turns out so many people saw this display that the National Weather Service Central Region Headquarters saw fit to write a press release about the phenomenon. It turns out these ice pillars occur very rarely. Basically, conditions that cause ice crystals to form in the upper atmosphere, giving us 'sun dogs' and 'moon dogs', can, under very rare circumstances, occur much closer to the ground. When it does, we see these pillars of light, which are really light sources near the ground reflected off the ice crystals in the air. A chilly explanation of a beautiful phenomenon.

Maximum Distance from the Sun

  • Mercury()
    43.4 million miles

    68 million miles

  • Earth()
    94.5 million miles

    155 million miles

  • Jupiter()
    508 million miles

    Saturn ()
    938 million miles

  • Uranus()
    1.87 billion miles

    2.82 billion miles

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