Every kind of solar-light phenomena there is seemed to occur all at once over Huntsville.

David Hathaway, a solar physicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, was going about business as usual yesterday afternoon when he suddenly heard an outburst of astonished voices. "People were saying, You gotta come out and see this," he recalls.

Hathaway followed the commotion out into the parking lot of his office in Huntsville, Alabama, and saw this: the apparent high-beams of an alien death-cruiser barreling down on Earth. The old, familiar sun had changed dramatically since the morning, encircling itself with an armada of burning arcs, orbs and halos. Hathaway ran to get his camera, aimed it into the sky – was curtly told to stop propping his arm on a random dude's car – and captured this incredible scene in glorious HDR.

Hathaway was familiar with sun dogs, and would spend the rest of the day reading about other solar phenomena like 22-degree halos, parhelic circles and upper tangent arcs. "Individually, they're infrequent," he says. "And we saw all of them."

As NASA's Tony Phillips notes at the great site Space Weather, the highly unusual light show was probably caused by the remnants of Hurricane Sandy. The mega-storm had seeded Alabama's higher atmosphere with ice crystals, which were angled to bend the sun's rays into a freaky, geometrically precise cathedral of light. According to one NASA employee that Phillips contacted, the spectacle was a "once-in-a-decade event" for Huntsville.

And Hathaway says he was glad to be there to witness it. "It was a once in a lifetime event," says the physicist. "That's the way I felt and I still feel."

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    What Happens When a City Tries to End Traffic Deaths

    Several years into a ten-year “Vision Zero” target, some cities that took on a radical safety challenge are seeing traffic fatalities go up.

  2. photo: a WeWork office
    Equity

    For Many WeWork Employees, the Job Is About to Change

    The co-working giant is letting 2,400 employees go and outsourcing 1,000 cleaning and facilities jobs as part of a company-wide belt-tightening.

  3. photo: Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar
    Equity

    What a Trillion-Dollar Housing Pledge Looks Like

    Representative Ilhan Omar’s Homes for All Act would fund the construction of 12 million new homes in the U.S. over 10 years, mostly as public housing.  

  4. Life

    Talent May Be Shifting Away From Superstar Cities

    According to a new analysis, places away from the coasts in the Sunbelt and West are pulling ahead when it comes to attracting talented workers.

  5. Equity

    What New Research Shows About Ride-Hail Racism

    A new study finds that changes ride-hail companies have made to prevent discrimination by drivers can prolong the time people of color wait for a ride.

×