Glory & Sky Brocken Spectre

A sighting by György Soponyai between Frankfurt and Budapest.

"During the descent, shortly before we sank into the clouds the glory appeared. At first it was only a faint round rainbow, then a small dark dot appeared in its center that slowly transformed into the silhouette of the plane (Airbus A320). Seconds before reaching the clouds, the plane shadow's size and form started to change chaotically: blown up -- disappear -- normal size -- small dot -- and so on. I guess these changes were caused by the rough edge of the cloud level."

There is something else. Look at the curious distortion and elongation of the 'plane shadow.

©György Soponyai, shown with permission
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The aircraft shadow is distorted. One wing is enlarged and elongated. So is the fuselage front.

The distortions are like those of the Brocken spectre seen on hillsides. The figure looms with grotesquely long legs and arms.

We see these distortions because we are inside the shadow. The shadow of the aircraft or ourself on a hillside is a long tube of unlit air. We look along it and see it tapering away into the distance.

The airplane shadow can be a combination of a 2D dark patch cast onto lower cloud and the 3D shadow tube through the air.

The glory is a quite separate phenomenon. Water droplets close to the cloud edge diffract light back towards the camera to form the multi-coloured rings.