Steve Lynch captured the photo below of light pillars in Great Falls on Tuesday, December 6, 2022, and shared it with KRTV. He wrote: "Photo of light pillars from calumet refinery taken at around 5:30 am. From my home in the Riverview area."
Shortly after this article was posted, Connor King shared this photo he took on Tuesday morning in Great Falls:
Light pillars are not necessarily common, but they are quite eye-catching. So what are they?
KRTV meteorologist Ryan Dennis says that tiny snow crystals in the atmosphere reflect light and when those snow crystals are spread throughout the atmosphere in a vertical direction, like they were on Tuesday, then it makes light pillars form (at least that's what we see...it is really just an optical illusion)!
From the Accuweather website: "Light pillars are an optical phenomenon caused when light is refracted by ice crystals. These lights tend to take on the color of the light source."
The website Atmospheric Optics explains: "The pillars are not physically over the lights or anywhere else in space for that matter ~ like all halos they are purely the collected light beams from all the millions of crystals which just happen to be reflecting light towards your eyes or camera. The crystals producing the pillars are roughly halfway between you and the lights. When ice crystals float in the air around you, pillars (and other halos) can even be seen around streetlights a few metres away."
Several people also shared photos of what are known as "sun dogs."
KRTV meteorologist Erik Johnson says that sun dogs appear on frigid winter days when the sun appears to have two smaller companions on either side. These "dogs" appear with a rainbow of colors as ice crystals in the sky refract sunlight like a prism.
Last December, Bill Fangmeier shared this photo of light pillars.