Sun Pillars–Weather Education

April 19, 2012
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Sun Pillars! Such a wonderful sight, and I see them often on the New Mexico horizon. Sun pillars look exactly the way they sound. They are vertical streaks of light. They appear above and below a low sun as it shines through ice crystal clouds, generally Cirrus clouds, Cirrostratus, or Cirrocumulus, or ground level ice crystal clouds called diamond dust. The pillar appears to be brightest when the sun slips below the horizon.

They can also appear at night. At night, they are called moon pillars.

A Sun Pillar is considered a halo phenomena, one that appears perhaps 25 days out of the year. I have been blessed to see many during this short time period. In The Cloud Collector’s Handbook, Gavin Pretor-Pinney compares them to a glitter path that one might see when the sun is shining on the rippling surface of a lake or ocean.

According to Pretor-Pinney, although most halo phenomena make their appearance when cloud crystals are optically pure, neatly shaped and in tight alignment, sun pillars can appear when the crystals are irregular and jumbled. They are referred to as “the poor man’s halo phenomena.”

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