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Sun pillar leaves skywatchers beaming before and after the Wolf Moon lights the night sky

Sun Pillar sunrise in Schoolcraft - Myra Delaney.jpg
As the sun rose over Schoolcraft, Michigan, on Friday morning, Myra Delaney captured a pillar of light stretching vertically into the sky. The phenomenon is called a sun pillar, and is most commonly seen at sunrise or sunset. (WWMT/Courtesy Myra Delaney)

Those who enjoy watching the beauty of the sky had quite the show Thursday evening and Friday morning across West Michigan.

Viewers might have noticed a subtle pillar of light beaming vertically in the sky both at sunset and sunrise.

Known as a sun or light pillar, the phenomenon is most common during the winter close to sunrise and sunset.

As the sun sits low on the horizon, light bounces off of ice crystals descending through the atmosphere. In order for the pillar effect to occur, the right kind of ice crystal must be present.

While all ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere are hexagonal in structure, their size and shape can vary. Some are very flat, while others form in a column shape.

Sun pillars are caused by flat ice crystals descending through the sky horizontally, similar to a leaf falling from a tree. As they fall flat, this creates a reflective surface for light. So, light from the sun bounces off the crystals in the atmosphere and our eyes perceive the pillar of light above the light source. The moon can also produce its own variety of light pillars.

While less common, bright enough objects on the Earth's surface can also produce light pillars. The column of light will always be of a similar color to the source of the light.

The full Wolf Moon also lit up the night sky late Thursday, which several other photographers captured across West Michigan.

January's "Wolf Moon" name might have originated from colonial times when wolves howled outside of villages. Some cultures call this full moon the Ice Moon, the Snow Moon, or the Moon After Yule.

The moon appears larger in the sky when it's low on the horizon due to an optical illusion that scientists still don't fully understand.

If you captured photos of the light pillars or the full Wolf Moon, be sure to submit them to our Chime In page, select the Out of this World option on the topic list.

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