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. A small accessory dwelling unit—known as an ADU—is attached to an older single-family home in a Portland, Oregon, neighborhood.
    Design

    The Granny Flats Are Coming

    A new book argues that the U.S. is about to see more accessory dwelling units and guides homeowners on how to design and build them.

  2. Environment

    Britain's Next Megaproject: A Coast-to-Coast Forest

    The plan is for 50 million new trees to repopulate one of the least wooded parts of the country—and offer a natural escape from several cities in the north.

  3. 1970s apartment complex in downtown Buffalo
    Equity

    The Last Man Standing in a Doomed Buffalo Housing Complex

    After a long fight between tenants and management, John Schmidt is waiting for U.S. Marshals to drag him out of Shoreline apartments, a Brutalist project designed by Paul Rudolph.

  4. The White House is seen reflected during a rainy day in Washington, D.C.
    POV

    The City That 'This Town' Forgot

    Washington, D.C., is home to a huge concentration of reporters. Why do they miss the stories happening in their own city?

  5. U.S. Embassy in London
    Design

    America's Passive-Aggressive New Embassy Arrives in London

    Why can’t we let bunkers be bunkers?