Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2006 January 2
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A Sun Pillar Over Maine
Credit & Copyright: Lucy Orloski

Explanation: Have you ever seen a sun pillar? When the air is cold and the Sun is rising or setting, falling ice crystals can reflect sunlight and create an unusual column of light. Ice sometimes forms flat, six-sided shaped crystals as it falls from high-level clouds. Air resistance causes these crystals to lie nearly flat much of the time as they flutter to the ground. Sunlight reflects off crystals that are properly aligned, creating the sun-pillar effect. In the above picture taken late last month, a sun-pillar reflects light from a Sun setting over Bangor, Maine, USA.

Tomorrow's picture: Iapetus

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