When it comes to atmospheric optics, nature never fails to surprise us with its stunning displays of light and color. One such phenomenon that captivates both scientists and skywatchers alike is the "Aerial Glory." Recently, Jonathan Lansey, a keen observer and photographer, had the privilege of witnessing this extraordinary event while descending into Houston, Texas. Let's delve into the details of this mesmerizing spectacle and explore what causes it.
Jonathan Lansey was fortunate enough to capture an unusually bright glory while on his descent into Houston. The glory appeared centered on the position where he was seated, adding an element of personal connection to this already enchanting phenomenon. The vivid colors and intricate patterns exhibited by the glory left him in awe, prompting him to document the spectacle for others to appreciate.
The aerial glory is a captivating optical phenomenon that occurs when sunlight interacts with tiny water droplets or ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere. It is often observed when flying above clouds or misty landscapes, where these microscopic particles are abundant. The glory manifests as a series of concentric rings or colored arcs surrounding the observer's shadow, creating a halo-like effect.
To understand the science behind the aerial glory, we must explore the process of diffraction and interference. When sunlight encounters these minuscule water droplets or ice crystals, it undergoes diffraction, bending or spreading out into its component colors. This bending of light causes the glory's rings or arcs to form. Additionally, interference occurs as the diffracted light waves interact with each other, resulting in the vibrant colors observed within the glory.
Several factors influence the visibility and intensity of an aerial glory. Here are some key elements to consider:
Droplet Size: The size of the water droplets or ice crystals plays a crucial role in determining the glory's appearance. Smaller particles tend to produce more distinct and well-defined glories, while larger particles may result in fainter or less defined glories.
Uniformity of Droplet Size: For a prominent and well-formed glory, the water droplets or ice crystals must be relatively uniform in size. This uniformity ensures that the diffracted light waves reinforce each other, enhancing the glory's visibility.
Sun Angle: The angle at which sunlight interacts with the droplets or crystals affects the glory's appearance. The best conditions for observing a glory are when the sun is low on the horizon, creating a long path for the light to interact with the particles.
Observer Position: The observer's position is critical in witnessing a glory. The glory will always appear centered on the observer's shadow, providing a unique and personal connection to the phenomenon.
While the aerial glory typically manifests as a series of concentric rings or arcs, variations of this phenomenon can occur under specific conditions. Some noteworthy variations include:
Supernumerary Glories: Occasionally, additional fainter rings may appear within the primary glory. These secondary rings, known as supernumerary glories, arise from interference between closely spaced light waves.
Brocken Spectre: When observing the glory from an elevated position, such as a mountaintop or an airplane, a Brocken spectre may accompany it. This phenomenon occurs when the observer's shadow is cast onto clouds or mist below, creating an eerie and majestic spectacle.
Photographing an aerial glory can be a rewarding yet challenging task. To capture this elusive phenomenon, photographers must consider various factors such as exposure settings, lens selection, and positioning within the aircraft. Additionally, patience and a keen eye are essential to seize the perfect moment when the glory is at its most vibrant.
The aerial glory is just one example of the breathtaking displays that nature has to offer. It serves as a reminder of the beauty and wonder that surround us, often hidden within the sky above. By embracing our curiosity and venturing into the world of atmospheric optics, we open ourselves up to a universe of extraordinary phenomena waiting to be discovered and appreciated.
So, next time you find yourself gazing out of an airplane window or standing atop a mist-covered hill, keep an eye out for the awe-inspiring aerial glory. Who knows what other hidden wonders of light and color await your discovery in the vast expanse of the atmosphere?
Jonathan Lansey (site) saw this unusually bright glory while descending into Houston. It is centred on the position where he was seated. ©Jonathan Lansey, shown with permission.
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"Aerial Glory - Houston, Texas". Atmospheric Optics. Accessed on December 10, 2023. https://atoptics.co.uk/blog/aerial-glory-houston-texas/.
"Aerial Glory - Houston, Texas". Atmospheric Optics, https://atoptics.co.uk/blog/aerial-glory-houston-texas/. Accessed 10 December, 2023
Aerial Glory - Houston, Texas. Atmospheric Optics. Retrieved from https://atoptics.co.uk/blog/aerial-glory-houston-texas/.