Lower sun pillars, also known as "lower pillars," are a mesmerizing atmospheric optical phenomenon that extends below the sun. While they are not as commonly observed as their upper counterparts, lower sun pillars offer a captivating spectacle when conditions align. In this article, we will delve deeper into the intricacies of lower sun pillars, shedding light on how they form and where to spot them.
A complete sun pillar halo encompasses both upward and downward extensions, but the lower pillar component often requires a keen eye to detect. These ethereal columns of light become visible when the sun is shielded by a cloud and positioned a few degrees above the horizon. When conditions are favorable, lower sun pillars manifest as bright beams of light extending vertically downward from the sun's disk.
Lower sun pillars truly come to life when observed in specific atmospheric conditions. Here are some scenarios where these captivating phenomena tend to reveal themselves:
Icy Clouds or Mist: Lower sun pillars often manifest in all their glory when one gazes downward into icy clouds or mist. The interplay between sunlight and ice crystals creates a breathtaking display of radiant columns of light.
Hills, Mountainsides, and Aerial Vantage Points: To enhance your chances of spotting lower sun pillars, seek vantage points such as hills, mountainsides, or even from an airplane shortly after sunrise or before sunset. These elevated positions provide a wider field of view and allow for better visibility of the downward extensions.
Mountain Valleys After Cold and Clear Nights: After a frigid and clear night, mountain valleys may be shrouded in an enchanting ice fog during the early hours of dawn. This atmospheric phenomenon creates an ideal setting for lower sun pillars to shine. The valley's unique topography and the presence of ice fog combine to produce a magical display of radiant beams.
"Diamond Dust" Crystals on Cold Days: On exceptionally cold days, "diamond dust" crystals may float in the clear air, adding a touch of sparkle to lower sun pillars. Ski slopes, with their cold temperatures and open vistas, offer an excellent opportunity to witness these glistening displays.
To increase your chances of witnessing the awe-inspiring beauty of lower sun pillars, keep the following tips in mind:
Timing is Key: Lower sun pillars are more likely to be visible shortly after sunrise or before sunset. Plan your observations accordingly, making sure to arrive at your chosen location with ample time to spare.
Seek Elevated Vantage Points: Find vantage points that offer an unobstructed view of the horizon and surrounding landscape. Hills, mountainsides, or even an airplane can provide the perfect perspective for spotting lower sun pillars.
Be Patient and Persistent: Atmospheric phenomena are elusive by nature, and lower sun pillars are no exception. Don't be discouraged if you don't immediately spot them. Keep observing, and you may be rewarded with a mesmerizing display of radiant beams.
Pay Attention to Weather Conditions: Lower sun pillars are more likely to occur when there are clouds or mist present, particularly those composed of ice crystals. Keep an eye on weather forecasts and choose days when conditions are conducive to the formation of these captivating phenomena.
If you're fortunate enough to witness lower sun pillars, consider capturing their beauty through photography. Here are a few tips to help you immortalize this enchanting phenomenon:
Use a Tripod: To ensure sharp and steady images, use a tripod to stabilize your camera. This will help prevent blurring caused by camera shake.
Experiment with Exposure Settings: Lower sun pillars can be quite bright, so it may be necessary to adjust your camera's exposure settings. Experiment with different exposure times to achieve the desired effect.
Include Interesting Foreground Elements: To add depth and context to your photographs, consider incorporating interesting foreground elements. A silhouette of a tree or a distant mountain range can enhance the visual impact of your images.
Lower sun pillars are a captivating atmospheric optical phenomenon that adds a touch of magic to our skies. By understanding the conditions under which they form and employing some strategic observation techniques, you can increase your chances of witnessing these radiant beams. So, keep an eye on the sky, explore elevated vantage points, and be prepared to be enchanted by the mesmerizing beauty of lower sun pillars.
Lower sun pillar Sutherland's Lake, Springhill, Nova Scotia. An unusually bright pillar extending downward from a 9º high sun. The sun's disk is partly visible at the lower edge of the dark cloud. Shaun Lowe (more of his images) saw the pillar on 30th December '02. Later at sunset he imaged a beautiful upper pillar. ©2002 Shaun Lowe, shown with permission.
A complete sun pillar halo extends below the sun as well as upwards but we have to look harder for the "lower pillar" component. It is occasionally visible when the sun is a few degrees high and shielded by a cloud.
Spectacular lower pillars are often visible when looking downward into icy cloud or mist. Search shortly after sunrise or before sunset from a hill or mountainside or from an aeroplane. The lower pillars in mountain valleys are best after dawn when the valley is filled by an ice fog after a very cold and clear night.
'Diamond dust' crystals floating in clear air on very cold days make sparkling lower pillars. Ski slopes provide just the opportunity to see them. They are sometimes visible at ground level against a backdrop of a dark building or shadowed snow.
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"Lower sun pillars". Atmospheric Optics. Accessed on March 1, 2024. https://atoptics.co.uk/blog/lower-sun-pillars/.
"Lower sun pillars". Atmospheric Optics, https://atoptics.co.uk/blog/lower-sun-pillars/. Accessed 1 March, 2024
Lower sun pillars. Atmospheric Optics. Retrieved from https://atoptics.co.uk/blog/lower-sun-pillars/.