New evidence suggesting neutrinos can travel faster than the speed of light has shined a spotlight on how light moves and acts. Light plays off our atmosphere in strange and mysterious ways, sometimes sparking claims of UFO sightings and paranormal activity. From "shining halo clouds" to sprites and massive light spirals, the otherworldly photos of light phenomena in this gallery are naturally-occurring or man-made illusions.
Above is a still from video taken last October and uploaded onto YouTube of a giant halo in an overcast sky over Moscow. The unusual sight ignited UFO rumors, but was easily explained by meteorologists. The "clouds" was just an optical illusion caused by sunlight hitting a cloud at just the right angle. The cloud's round shape is likely what is known as a hole-punch cloud. These clouds occur within cirrostratus clouds, which are often composed of ice crystals and drops of water that are below freezing temperature but still in liquid form. When cirrostratus clouds are disturbed by planes or strong winds, the droplets can freeze instantly or evaporate, the latter of which will form the hole.
The above unaltered image may like a wormhole to another dimension, but it was actually caused by a Russian missile that failed just after launch. The spectacular spiral light show appeared in December 2009 in the sky above northern Norway. According to Russia's defense ministry, a botched Bulava ballistic test missile spun out of control, creating the mysterious rotating spiral effect.
This shot, taken in May 2010 at Nødebohuse, North Zealand, in Denmark, shows a natural phenomenon referred to as a solar pillar. These vertical beams of light areusually created in cold air by ice crystals falling from high clouds. The crystals are sometimes flat, and air resistance will cause them to float flatly, rather than knifing downward on edge. As sunlight reflects off the crystals, the resulting column of light shining up into the sky seems to come from the sun, but in reality it's just a few miles away from the observer.
A natural weather phenomenon, sprites appear as flashes high in the sky. They are triggered by thunderstorms and are created when lightning from thunderstorms excites the electric field in the atmosphere above the storm. The resulting dancing flashes of bright light can form as balls of electricity, streaks, tendrils or a combination of both, such as in the above image.
Just above this sunset, a peculiar light glows green. This "green flash," caused by light refracting in the atmosphere, is rarely seen. But it was captured by Nigella Hillgarth, director of the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, as she took a routine photo of the sun sinking into the Pacific.
Above is a still from video taken last October and uploaded onto YouTube of a giant halo in an overcast sky over Moscow. The unusual sight ignited UFO rumors, but was easily explained by meteorologists. The "halo cloud" was just an optical illusion caused by sunlight hitting a cloud at just the right angle. The cloud's round shape is likely what is known as a hole-punch cloud. These clouds occur within cirrostratus clouds, which are often composed of ice crystals and drops of water that are below freezing temperature but still in liquid form. When cirrostratus clouds are disturbed by planes or strong winds, the droplets can freeze instantly or evaporate, the latter of which will form the hole.
A sundog is another atmospheric optical phenomenon caused by the refraction of sunlight by tiny ice crystals in clouds. Also known as "mock" suns or parhelia, sundogs appear on each side of the sun. The ice crystals must be oriented horizontally and the observer's line of sight must be close to horizontal to see the sundogs. This beautiful photo was captured at sunrise on a cold morning in Park City, Utah. Above the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in midwinter, sundogs meld into a halo around the sun.
The sky appears to glow an eerie green hue as the intense aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, shine in the moonlit night. The striking image is mirrored on Lake Laberge, Yukon Territory, Canada.
Solar halos are also caused by small, flat, six-sided, ice crystals that float down parallel to the ground. When an observer passes through the same plane as many of the falling ice crystals near sunrise or sunset, the alignment makes each crystal act like a miniature lens. These "lenses" refract sunlight into our view and create what appears to be a bright circle around the sun. Shown above is a photo of the sun peeking from behind a building, with a 22-degree solar halo arc shining around it.
Partial halo with parhelia (sun dogs) on both sides of halo.
This image shows one of the first ground sightings of noctilucent clouds in the 2007 season over Budapest, Hungary on June 15, 2007. To learn about how these clouds form and when and where you can see them, click here.
Noctilucent clouds over Kustavi, Finland. Photo taken July 27/28, 2001, at approximately 12:30 a.m. local time, or 4 hours after sunset. This image shows a noctilucent cloud illuminating the water below and a gold hue on the horizon.
Noctilucent clouds, also known as night-shining clouds, are a rare but beautiful sight. After the sun sets on a summer evening and the sky fades to black, you may be lucky enough to see thin, wavy clouds illuminating the night, such as these seen over Billund, Denmark, on July 15, 2010.
The breathtaking double rainbow above was photographed over Harper's Lake in Louisville, Colorado.
This is the first picture ever of a quadruple rainbow, also known as a quaternary rainbow, in nature. The third-order (tertiary) rainbow (left), accompanied by the fourth-order (quaternary) rainbow (right). They appear on the sunward side of the sky, at approximately 40° and 45°, respectively, from the Sun.
This colorful apparition, known officially as a circumhorizon arc, occurs when sunlight strikes cirrus clouds — the kind that typically look like cotton candy and form very high in the sky — at a certain angle. The above cloud was seen in June in Washington.
One certain bright, moonlit nights, a rare phenomenon known as a "moonbow" occurs at the Yosemite Falls. A moonbow is basically a rainbow created by the light of the moon as it sets. It only happens a few times each year and conditions have to be just right: There must be clear skies, enough water in the falls to create an adequate mist, and bright moonlight that is not blocked by the surrounding mountains.
The rings around the moon in the above photo are known as lunar corona. The thin green laser beam is a probe used to determine whether the rings are caused by light diffracted off of tiny ice crystals or liquid water droplets.
These noctilucent clouds where photographed at sunset above Salakas, Lithuania. Noctilucent clouds are the highest clouds in the atmosphere and require very specific atmospheric conditions to form. They can only be spotted during short summer nights in mid- and high-latitude regions around the globe. Nearly transparent, they only become discernible during twilight hours.
Often seen on hot road tops during the dog days of summer, road mirages happen due to changes in temperature. They occur when there is a large difference in between the air temperature immediately above an area of hot asphalt and the cooler air a few feet above the road. This heat difference causes small-angle light rays to be reflected up instead of hitting the ground like they normally do.
When the sun's rays bounces off the underside of horizontally-oriented ice crystals in the air just so, with the surrounding crystals acting as a massive concave mirror, the illusion of a "supersun" in created. Supersuns are usually only visible to people on airplanes or high atop mountains, as they cannot be viewed from ground level because the light bouncing off the crystals will always be blocked by the surface of the Earth.