Frigid Air Causing Star Wars “Lightsaber” Effect

December 29th, 2017 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

The unusually frigid air over the central and eastern U.S. caused this relatively rare “lightsaber” display of light pillars in Lebanon, New Hampshire, on the night of December 27, 2017.

Light pillar photo by Stephanie Graudons, Lebanon, NH.

The effect is caused when flat-plate ice crystals falling through cold air reflect light sources on the ground like tiny mirrors. The pillars themselves are half way between the light source and the observer.

According to the photographer’s fiance’, and as reported at,

“An unexpected sight at 3 am, these light pillars were amazing enough that I dragged my fiance out of bed and out into the -14 degree night to photograph them! Shivering in a foot of new snow in a nearby baseball field, we watched until they faded away. It was well worth the lack of sleep, and I’d definitely do it again.”

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