Astrophoto: Solar Pillar by Rick Stankiewicz

by Nancy Atkinson on August 16, 2011

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Solar Pillar. Credit: Rick Stankiewicz.

Beam me up! This amazing image of a solar pillar was sent to us by Rick Stankiewicz of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

This image launches our new astrophoto of the day feature, where we will feature images taken by amateur and professional photographers, the best images from space missions and much more.

“The evening of June 10th, 2011, I was traveling west across northern Ontario on Highway #11, near the community of Hearst and it was like any other, until the Sun set and then what unfolded was like a scene from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Rick wrote, telling us about this photo. “It was both eerie and beautiful. Of course it was only a harmless solar pillar, but one of the most striking and colourful that I have ever seen. The contrast with the black clouds over the western horizon added greatly to the special effect. The solar pillar was redder than I have normally seen. Usually they tend to be a yellow, orange or pink. Clearly the longer wavelengths of the spectrum were showing themselves this evening.”

Rick provided the specs of the equipment he used: Camera: Canon 400D; Lense: Canon 18-200mm @ 24 & 90mm; ISO: 200; f/5.6; 1/60-1/80

Rick is President of the Peterborough Astronomical Association

We often feature images from amateur photographers on Universe Today, and we’d like to do that more often — in fact we’d like to do it every day! To facilitate that, we’ve started a Flickr group for Universe Today, to allow people to submit their astronomy and space-related photos for us to use. If you aren’t on Flickr, you can send images to us via email. By submitting them on Flickr or sending them to us, you are giving us permission to post them here on Universe Today. When we do use an image, of course we will give the photographer full credit and link back to your Flickr page or whatever you’d like. Just let us know!

To help us out, if you could tell us a little about it – exactly what it is, when you took it, the equipment you used, and/or a little story about it — that would enable us to write a better article about your picture! (meaning, hopefully it will go viral and then you’ll be famous for your photography!)

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

squidgeny August 17, 2011 at 12:51 PM

Impressive… but what causes a solar pillar? Is it reflections of the sun on layers of the atmosphere?

That would be my guess, based on the similar effect seen when the moon hangs above a body of water… only the “lunar pillar” appears in the water!

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE August 17, 2011 at 2:14 PM

Sun pillars are caused by hexagonal shaped ice crystals as they fall from high-level clouds. Air resistance causes these crystals to lie nearly flat much of the time as they flutter to the ground. Sunlight reflects off crystals that are properly aligned, creating the sun-pillar effect. See: Plate Pillars – Solar Altitude (more links there).

squidgeny August 17, 2011 at 2:57 PM

Oh wow, it’s even more complex than I thought!
So what are the ideal weather conditions for seeing a sun pillar? Cold fronts?

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE August 17, 2011 at 5:37 PM

Sun (and also Moon) Pillars are not restricted to cold weather, since those ice crystals form at high altitudes where it cold anyway.

BTW, here’s another nice explanation of Sun/Moon/light pillars, all on one page: Light Pillars – An Introduction to Sun Pillars and Related Phenomena.

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