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26 December 2009 @ 08:03 pm
A Sun Pillar at Twilight  

The sun sets pretty early these days; sunset occurs around 4:30 pm, while I am at work, which means it is fully dark when I leave at 5:00. The good news is that we have now passed the winter solstice, and the days are getting longer. While it sure doesn't seem like it now, given that Ottawa currently receives less than nine hours of daylight, in a month we will see a noticeable difference.

Earlier this week I happened to pass a window on the west side of the building where I work and noticed the western sky was lit up in beautiful shades of orange and scarlet and purple. Upon closer examination, I realized there was a thin beam of light extending upward from where the sun had just set below the horizon. I was witnessing a sun pillar!

Evening Sky

Sun pillars are not actual vertical rays of light, but rather the reflections from millions of ice crystals. Seen only when the sun is close to or even below the horizon, it is best to look for sun pillars near sunset or sunrise. Pillars can be quite high and may beam directly up or down from the sun. They may appear white, yellow, red or purple depending on the colours of the sun and clouds at the time. Sometimes pillars appear as several small, vertical patches of light rather than a single ray depending on the locations of the cloud crystals.

Here is the best photo I managed to take:

Evening Sun Pillar

Unfortunately, the pillar is not as bright in this photo as it was in real life. The sun was actually below the horizon at the time; the bright spot that appears in the photo is not the sun, and was less vivid in real life than it is here.

Even if my photo didn't turn out as well as I had hoped, it still caught the magnificent colours of the sunset beautifully. I'll just have to spend more time on the west side of the office this winter, and watch for more of these marvelous pillars of light!