All in a flight - Optics events imaged by Steve West (Steve's Atmospheric Optics) February 2009. ©Steve West, shown with permission.

Provided you can get a window seat and the window works then aerial atmospheric optics of one kind or another are almost a certainty.

At left the aircraft's shadow cast in thin cloud over Los Angeles is surrounded by a two ringed glory. Water droplets in the cloud are scattering light backwards to form the diffraction pattern. Where is Steve sitting?

Below, optics of a different kind. Cloud shadows and the intervening rays appear to converge to a point on the landscape below. The point is the antisolar point directly opposite the sun. The rays and shadows are all parallel but the same perspective that makes railroad tracks or a road converge towards the horizon operate in the sky. Unlike most optical effects, the rays and shadows are tangible 3D objects - imagine them here as long parallel rods extending away from you and the scene will take on its 3D reality.

Bottom picture - Another shadow, this time of the aircraft's contrail cast downwards onto the cloud deck .The shadow was visible for most of Steve's journey. Sometimes the shadows are the slightest brown-red smudge on the clouds but if you look carefully in a direction opposite the sun you will find them.


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