Have you ever witnessed a captivating phenomenon known as the Holy Light? This ethereal glow, also referred to as Heiligenschein, is a breathtaking optical effect that occurs in the atmosphere. It can be observed when the sun's rays interact with large dew drops suspended on leaf hairs, creating a mesmerizing spectacle. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of this phenomenon, unraveling its fascinating characteristics and shedding light on the science behind its enchanting appearance.
The Holy Light manifests as a radiant glow that appears directly opposite the sun, encircling the shadow of the observer's head or camera. However, it is important to note that this celestial spectacle is only visible to the person who stands within the group. Each individual perceives the holy glow solely around their own head, adding an element of personal connection to this mystical experience.
The captivating phenomenon of Holy Light is not a result of diffraction, as observed in another atmospheric optical effect called glory. Instead, it is a consequence of geometrical optics. When sunlight interacts with large dew drops, these droplets act as imperfect lenses. Due to their spherical shape, they suffer from a phenomenon known as "spherical aberration." This optical imperfection causes rays passing near the center of the drop to focus at a longer distance compared to those passing nearer the rim.
The dew drops responsible for creating the Holy Light are often found suspended on leaf hairs, away from the actual surface of the leaf. These drops act as lenses that focus the sun's rays, resulting in a broad patch of bright sunlight on the nearby leaf. Some of this light is then reflected back through the drop in roughly the same direction from which it arrived. This backward-going light is what gives rise to the captivating glow around the antisolar point, also known as the "heiligenschein."
While the Holy Light is predominantly associated with dew drops, it is important to mention another variant of this optical effect known as the "dry heiligenschein" or opposition effect. In this case, the glow is not created by dew drops but by tiny particles suspended in the air, such as dust or pollen. These particles scatter and reflect sunlight, leading to a similar glow around the antisolar point. The dry heiligenschein often appears when the sun is low on the horizon, enhancing its mystical allure.
Witnessing the Holy Light can be a truly magical experience, as it unveils a glimpse of nature's hidden beauty. The interplay between sunlight, dew drops, and suspended particles in the atmosphere creates an enchanting display that captivates our senses. Whether it is the ethereal glow encircling our own head or the mesmerizing reflection of light on nearby surfaces, the Holy Light reminds us of the wonders that lie within the natural world.
If you are fortunate enough to witness the Holy Light, consider capturing this ethereal phenomenon through photography. With the right technique and a keen eye, you can immortalize this enchanting spectacle for others to admire. Experiment with different angles and lighting conditions to capture the essence of the Holy Light and convey its mesmerizing allure.
The Holy Light is just one of many captivating phenomena that occur in the realm of atmospheric optics. From rainbows and halos to sun pillars and auroras, our atmosphere is a treasure trove of optical wonders. Exploring these phenomena not only deepens our understanding of light and its interaction with the atmosphere but also allows us to appreciate the beauty and complexity of our natural world.
The Holy Light serves as a reminder of the awe-inspiring beauty that surrounds us. It invites us to pause, immerse ourselves in the moment, and marvel at the wonders of nature. So, next time you find yourself in the presence of this mystical glow, take a moment to appreciate its ethereal charm and let it ignite a sense of wonder within your soul. After all, the Holy Light is a gentle reminder that magic exists in the most unexpected places, waiting to be discovered by those who dare to look.
Holy Light, Heiligenschein imaged by Ken Scott (Touching the Light) on the South Downs of East Sussex, England. Morning of April 27 after he had sighted a dawn sun pillar. ©Ken Scott, shown with permission.
The glow appears directly opposite the sun around the shadow of the head or camera.
Someone in a group will see the holy glow only around their own head.
Large drops of dew produce it.
Unlike the glory it is a geometrical optics effect rather than diffraction.
The sun's rays are focused by the dew drop which is sometimes suspended on leaf hairs away from the actual leaf surface.
The drop acts acts as a rather poor lens. Spherical lenses suffer from 'spherical aberration' in that rays passing near the centre are brought to a longer focus than those passing nearer the rim. The result is a broad patch of bright sunlight on the nearby leaf surface.
Some light from the bright spot shines back through the drop in roughly the same direction from whence it arrived. The backward going light is seen as a glow around the antisolar point - the 'heiligenshein'.
See also the 'dry heiligenschein' or opposition effect.
Background image by Taavi Babcock.
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"Holy Light". Atmospheric Optics. Accessed on March 1, 2024. https://atoptics.co.uk/blog/holy-light/.
"Holy Light". Atmospheric Optics, https://atoptics.co.uk/blog/holy-light/. Accessed 1 March, 2024
Holy Light. Atmospheric Optics. Retrieved from https://atoptics.co.uk/blog/holy-light/.