Published on October 21st, 2014 | by Mark Griffin
Natural Light Wonders
We can create amazing spectacles with lighting these days but it is always a little special when nature treats us to a show! There are some fascinating phenomena that occur around the globe – the question is can you be in the right place at the right time to see them? Some of them people catch by chance but there are others that are linked to locations which are accessible to anyone with a penchant for adventure and some serious visually stimulation.
Here are six natural light shows that will make you go ‘wow’.
1. Ice Halo
© 2014 Photographed by Peter Rosén. Located: www.spaceweather.com
This phenomena is called an ice or sun halo for fairly obvious reasons. This one was captured by photographer Peter Rosén, in Stockholm.
A halo also referred to as a nimbus, icebow or gloriole is an optical phenomenon that is the product of ice crystals channelling light. The light is reflected and refracted by the ice crystals which can also split into colours because of dispersion. The crystals act like prisms refracting and reflecting sunlight between their faces, directing shafts of light in particular directions.
They can be created around artificial light as well when small crystals fill the air around a fixed lighting feature. The crystals are like a fine diamond dust in the air that refracts the light and creates a halo. These are only formed in very cold weather.
Now is the time of year when low-hanging suns shine through high-floating ice to produce such vistas. People of the northern hemisphere should be alert for halos.
It is possible to see ice halos all year around. However, they are more often seen in the winter months because the cold weather creates better conditions for the consistent formation of halo-creating ice crystals.
Just be careful when observing them, use your hand to blot out the sun and never look at it directly.
2. Northern Lights
The Northern Lights hardly need any introduction. You never know what spectacular show you will be treated to because this natural phenomenon varies every time it occurs.
The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually the product of collisions taking place between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the suns particles.
The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known specifically as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south.
Auroral displays can be seen in many colours though the most common are pale green and pink. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported. They also take many forms including patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays. They light up the skies with ribbons or splatters of light and produce colourful canvases for the eye to behold.
The phenomena occurs near the magnetic poles, and the best places to watch the lights in the north are:
- In the north-western parts of Canada (Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Alaska)
- The southern tip of Greenland and Iceland
- The northern coast of Norway
- Over the coastal waters north of Siberia
The southern auroras are not often seen as they appear in a ring around Antarctica and the southern Indian Ocean.
The best places to watch these displays are away from pollution and urban settings to you have clear skies to view the display on. The question everyone asks, understandably, is when to watch the skies or visit the places known for sightings.
Firstly, aim for Winter and of course the north to the places mentioned above. The longer periods of darkness during winter increase the possibility of seeing them. The best months tend to be in Autumn and Spring. There is no specific date that will guarantee you a viewing but these months will increase the likelihood of one happening. The best time to watch is usually local midnight.
3. Grotta Azzurra
The Blue Grotto is a sea cave that has been flooded by light. In this case the light has created a brilliant blue or emerald effect. This type of effect is mimicked in several caves throughout the world where the quality and colour of this phenomenon is determined by the particular lighting conditions affecting each cave.
With the Blue Grotto light comes from two sources. One source is a small hole in the cave wall, level with the waterline, and is a 1.5 metres in diameter. This is also the entranceway into the cave and is just big enough to admit a tiny rowboat. The second source of light comes from a second hole, which has a surface area of around 50cm. This hole lies directly below the entranceway and is the primary source of light.
The grotto was known to the Romans. It was supposedly used by the Emperor Tiberius during his retirement at Capri. Sculptures of Neptune and tritons from the Roman period have been removed from the cave. It is believed that more lie on its deep bottom. The remains of an ancient landing place suggests this could have been a natural cavern adorned by statues.
The Blue Grotto has become the emblem of the island of Capri, trips are available with various companies working from the island.
4. Light pillar
Light pillars over Laramie Wyoming in winter night CC BY-SA 3.0 Christoph Geisler
These stunning visual phenomenon were created by the reflection of light off ice crystals that possess near horizontal parallel planar surfaces. A mouthful I know! When the light comes from the Sun they are called sun or solar pillars. The light source could also be the Moon or even street lights.
Light pillars are more common when the Sun is low or lies below the horizon. They have been known to produce false UFO reports and looking at the image above there is certainly a sci-fi quality to it. Niagra Falls commonly sees the presence of light pillars because of the high level of mist from the falls. They occur frequently during the winter months when the ice crystals interact with the city’s upward facing spotlights to create some spectacular light pillars.
5. Waitomo Caves ‘Glow-worm grotto’
Note: This photo has an unknown authors. If you are aware of who took it please let us know so we can be sure they are credited appropriately for their hard work.
In 1887 English surveyor Fred Mace and Maori chief Tane Tinorau went to explore the Waitomo region. The Maori people were already aware of this particular cavern’s existence, but it had yet to be visited by foreigners to the region.
The explorers soon found themselves enveloped in the beautiful glow of thousands of Arachnocampa luminosa larvae. To me and you they are glow-worms. These small carnivores use bioluminescence to attract flying insect prey toward a mass of sticky silk they have suspended from the cavern ceiling. The cave environment means their lighting stands out and there are no gusty winds to tangle their traps.
The Waitomo caves provide ideal conditions for the glow-worms to thrive in and create a spectacular show for those who stumble across them.
The enthusiasm the caves generated was enough to persuade the Chief Tane Tinorau to open the caves to tours in 1889. The Waitomo caves and the now famous ‘Glowworm Grotto’ attract thousands of tourists and you are able to book a visit to experience the natural phenomenon.
6. Bioluminescent Bay
This delight is hidden along the Caribbean coast. It is one of the most spectacular Bioluminescent Bays in the world. The light is created by tiny micro-organisms which thrive in this environment. The bay has a serpentine intestine-like waterway which takes water from the ocean back to the actual bay.
The microorganisms come in through a curving river and then stay in the calm and protected waters of the bay. The geography has created a density of these organisms so the glowing effects are much brighter and stronger than anywhere else. The experience at night is simply magical.
The small micro-organisms emit the light whenever they are touched by another object or being or simply brushed by waves/current – it is a defensive reaction. There are many tour companies offering visits to the bay that will go into detail about the fragile ecology of the plants and animals of the bay.
So, for a visual feast you have six great sites to go and explore. They should be on everyone’s bucket list for certain. Enjoy the magical effects nature can create with its own version of mood and show like lighting.