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Rare 'pillars of light' appear across the US as ice crystals in the air reflect light to create what look like UFO abduction rays

Residents in several states have been left in awe after witnessing the atmospheric phenomenon known as pillars of light that some liken to beams from alien spacecraft.
While rare, the pillars form during frigid winter nights, as ground light reflects off millions of ice crystals suspended in the air.
AccuWeather Meteorologist David Samuhel said in a statement: 'Typically, ice crystals are small enough to remain suspended in the air and only form when temperatures are below zero [F].

'In most instances, temperatures are minus 10 to 20 degrees or colder.'

Most of the pillars of light were observed in the past week as a deep freeze swept across much of the nation.
Some states, like Minnesota, saw temperatures drop to minus six degrees.
Witnesses have noted that the pillars seem brighter and taller than in years past, which might be a result of the extreme cold.

Light pillars are formed when light rays are reflected off of horizontally aligned ice crystals suspended in or falling slowly through the air.
The crystals act like a series of tiny mirrors in the sky, reflecting light as they slowly fall to the ground.
While the light is actually coming from ground level or higher in the sky, it appears to observers to come from various points above or below the natural source, forming the beam of light.
Although your brain may think the pillars are there, they are an optical illusion and form in the same way that virtual images and objects reflected in mirrors appear to exist behind the plane of the mirror.

Specific conditions are required for forming light pillars — it must be below freezing, and the air must be virtually wind-free.
Without this, the tiny hexagonal ice crystals would be disturbed, but in very calm conditions, they naturally orient themselves horizontally as they fall through the air.
The presence of horizontal crystals across various altitudes causes the light source's reflection to elongate into a column.
Light pillars are often seen in colder climates in the autumn and winter when temperatures are low enough for ice to form in the atmosphere — typically when ground-level temperatures fall beneath 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Samuhel said the pillars occur under high pressure without any storm present.
'There is no tie between storms and the pillars,' he continued.
'A storm system would disrupt the pillar formation with wind and precipitation.
And while the pillars of light may mimic auroras, they differ because the beams are much smaller than the northern lights that can cover miles of the sky.
'Auroras are observed across a much wider area since they occur many miles up in the atmosphere,' Samuhel said.
'Light pillars occur close to the ground in the lowest levels of the atmosphere.'

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