OPOD - Light columns, Hungary

OPOD - Light Columns, Hungary: A Mesmerizing Atmospheric Phenomenon

Have you ever gazed up at the night sky and been captivated by the sight of ethereal columns of light stretching towards the heavens? Such a spectacle was witnessed by Rafael Schmall, a fortunate observer located approximately 10 kilometers from Kaposvár in Hungary. He captured an awe-inspiring photograph of these fascinating light columns, which seemed to defy the laws of nature. In this blog post, we will delve deeper into the phenomenon of light columns, exploring their mesmerizing nature and shedding light on the scientific explanation behind their formation.

The Illusion of Light Columns

At first glance, it may appear that there is a direct beam of light ascending from the ground towards the sky, giving rise to these captivating columns. However, the truth is far more intriguing. Light pillars are actually an optical illusion created by countless flat plate crystals suspended in the atmosphere. These wobbly crystals act as tiny mirrors, reflecting and redirecting light towards our eyes. Each crystal plays its part, collectively producing the illusion of a solid column of light reaching skyward.

The Unique Characteristics of the Light Columns in Hungary

The light columns observed by Rafael Schmall possess a distinctive feature that sets them apart from typical light pillars. Unlike their counterparts, which extend vertically from the source of light, these columns appear shorter and higher in the air. The reason for this lies in the composition of the crystals responsible for their formation. In this case, a discrete layer of ice crystals in the atmosphere contributes to the creation of these remarkable short columns.

Understanding the Science Behind Light Columns

To comprehend how light columns come into existence, we must delve into the intricate workings of atmospheric optics. The formation of these optical phenomena requires specific conditions to be met:

  • Low temperatures: Light columns are most commonly observed in colder climates where temperatures drop below freezing point. In the case of Hungary, the temperature at the time of Rafael Schmall's sighting was -2 degrees Celsius.
  • Flat plate crystals: The presence of numerous flat plate crystals suspended in the air is crucial for the creation of light pillars. These crystals act as miniature mirrors, reflecting and redirecting light.
  • Orientation of crystals: For light columns to form, the flat plate crystals must be aligned in a particular manner, usually with their large faces parallel to the ground. This alignment allows for the reflection and redirection of light towards the observer.

Unveiling the Beauty of Light Columns

When all the necessary conditions align, a mesmerizing display of light columns emerges. The glinting crystals, located approximately halfway between the observer and the source of light, scatter and reflect light in a manner that produces an illusion of vertical columns reaching towards the sky. The ethereal glow captivates viewers, evoking a sense of wonder and awe at the mysterious workings of nature.

The Role of Ice Crystals in Hungary's Light Columns

The unique short columns witnessed by Rafael Schmall in Hungary owe their existence to a specific type of ice crystal formation. A discrete layer of ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere interacts with the surrounding light sources, creating an enchanting display. These ice crystals, like their flat plate counterparts, act as tiny mirrors, reflecting and redirecting light towards our eyes. The interplay between the ice crystals and the ambient light results in the formation of these extraordinary short columns.


The world of atmospheric optics never fails to astound us with its captivating phenomena. Light columns, such as those observed by Rafael Schmall in Hungary, serve as a testament to the enchanting beauty and complexity of nature. By understanding the scientific principles behind these optical illusions, we can appreciate the delicate interplay between light, ice crystals, and our perception. Next time you find yourself gazing up at the night sky, remember to keep an eye out for the mesmerizing sight of light columns, a true testament to the wonders that surround us.

Light Columns, Hungary

Seen by Rafael Schmall about 10 km from Kaposv�r, the source of the lights creating the columns high in the sky. The temperature was -2 Celsius. ©Rafael Schmall.

Complete light pillars stretch upwards from the lamps creating them. These ones are unusual in that they are short columns high in the air.

Both types are an illusion! There is no upward beam of light. Untold millions of wobbly flat plate crystals individually glint light towards the eye. The glinting crystals are roughly half way towards the lights.

the short columns pictured by Rafael Schmall were produced by a discrete layer of ice crystals in the atmosphere.

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Reference Atmospheric Optics

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  • "OPOD - Light columns, Hungary". Atmospheric Optics. Accessed on June 25, 2024. https://atoptics.co.uk/blog/opod-light-columns-hungary/.

  • "OPOD - Light columns, Hungary". Atmospheric Optics, https://atoptics.co.uk/blog/opod-light-columns-hungary/. Accessed 25 June, 2024

  • OPOD - Light columns, Hungary. Atmospheric Optics. Retrieved from https://atoptics.co.uk/blog/opod-light-columns-hungary/.