I was sent this photo from Terri King who was traveling by airplane. This shadow of the plane was surrounded by what appeared to be a circular rainbow. Terri was bummed that she had the window seat and missed the view of the ground below, but then described this as “the coolest thing” she has ever seen. What Terri saw and captured was a phenomenon called a Glory.
A Glory is also know as an anti corona or Pilot’s Bow. It is rather common for plane travelers or even from a hot air balloon or tall building. With the sun on one side, it casts a large shadow on the clouds below. The light refracts and breaks into the colors of the rainbow, always in the same order. Red on the outside, then orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet on the inside. There are often a few concentric circus, and if you look closely you can see two in this photo.
This is actually partly due to another phenomenon called a Mountain Spectre, where the sun can create an enlarged shadow on a distant cloud formation. The origin is Brocken spectre, the tallest peak in the Harz mountain range in Germany. Since it is a misty location, this is above the clouds and can produce these shadows for hikers. Due to the moving clouds, the shadow moves as well. Since both are based on the optics of the sun being opposite the observer, the shadow ends up on the middle of the circular ‘rainbow’. This is very cool, but more common than you might imagine for those that frequent high altitudes with a clouds below.
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