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What were those columns of light in the sky over Idaho Falls?

Pillars of light in the sky above Idaho Falls. | Courtesy Taylor Lance
IDAHO FALLS — Pillars of light appeared in the sky over Idaho Falls on Monday morning.
These lights weren’t anything mysterious. Light pillars are a natural phenomenon caused by light refracting off of ice crystals that are either suspended or lightly falling in the sky, said Tin Axford, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service.
“Even though those individual crystals are so small, you’re getting a lot of reflection because there are a lot of ice crystals,” Axford said. “That causes it to kind of look like this column of light that extends up and perhaps down.”
Axford explained that these ice crystals form in hexagonal shapes, and they’re oriented facing up and down. This is why the light is refracted as pillars instead of being diffused.
Most of the time, the pillars are most visible when the ice crystals are closer to the ground, but the crystals could also be suspended in the air further up in the atmosphere.
Most of the time, the light that’s being refracted is from street lights, but they can also come from illuminated signs, houses and even the moon.
Due to the refraction being caused by ice, the light pillars only occur when the temperature is low.
Axford said that when this phenomenon occurs, the Weather Service doesn’t often get phone calls about it. Sometimes, people will call and be interested in an explanation, and other times, they’ll take pictures and send them to the agency through Facebook.
“I think generally people understand that they’re not dangerous or anything,” Axford said.
Axford said that it’s amazing that we live in a world where natural phenomena like this can occur and light up the sky.
“The world is an amazing place. There’s stuff that we’re still learning about our science and science in general,” Axford said. “Something like this doesn’t occur all the time, but when it does, it reminds us that there are some really fascinating things that happen.”
Axford hopes that young people who see these light pillars and research what they are will find a deeper interest in science.
“That might inspire them to become the next generation of meteorologists that learn the next new thing,” Axford said.
Those interested in learning more can go to and see how temperature affects the shape of snowflakes.
The post What were those columns of light in the sky over Idaho Falls? appeared first on East Idaho News.

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