First Alert Weather

Did You See a Red Beam Light Up the Sky Friday Evening? Here's What Caused It

The phenomenon is called a sun pillar and requires specific conditions to align

NBC10 Boston

Looking in the evening sky on Friday, you may have seen a pillar of red - something that looks like a beam out of a sci-fi movie.

On Twitter, Matt Frank asked if “anyone else see (saw) that red death ray shooting into the sky at sunset?”

It’s no death ray - this was an atmospheric phenomenon known as a sun pillar.

This was indicative of moisture increasing in the upper levels of the atmosphere, as clouds moved in. The moisture eventually turned into Saturday’s rainfall.

This pillar required the perfect and precise atmospheric parameters to align.

The American Meteorological Society defines a sun pillar as “a halo in the form of a pillar of light extending above or below the sun and usually seen when the sun is low in the sky. It is explained by reflection by the sides of columnar ice crystals falling with their long axes horizontal. The term light pillar is sometimes used when the source of light is artificial, such as street lamps.”

The sun was perfectly low on the horizon, at sunset, as moisture tailed in, ahead of Saturday’s rain.

We saw scenes of this across Eastern Massachusetts. NBC10 Photojournalist Mark Garfinkel captured the pillar from Revere, Mass.

So the next time you see this sci-fi like light, there’s no need to Beam me up Scotty…it’s a sun pillar, with thousands of tiny ice crystals perfectly aligning with the sunrise or sunset.

This schematic from the NWS Duluth, Minn. illustrates how light pillars form. This illusion is similar to a sun pillar, but the source region for the light in a light pillar is different.

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