Mika Wist

Looking like laser lights from a Metallica concert, this is not your typical aurora borealis.

Envy the people of Finland: They not only get to zone out each year to the tripadelic northern lights, they also have these entrancing "light pillars" shining over the land like fire fountains at a Lordi heavy-metal jam.

Photographer Mika Wist, who lives in the southern city of Hämeenlinna, captured the above view of the light columns from his balcony on Tuesday evening. "These pillars occurred around 8-9 pm and lasted about an hour," he emails. "Outside was -19 °C / -2,2 °F. I haven't seen those for a very long time in the south part of Finland."

The celestial beams varied in color and were bright enough to stick out against the city's ambient glow (more about that in a minute). After taking them in for a bit from his house, Wist ventured outside to get this shot of them leaping over a frozen lake:

Although these pillars might seem similar to the aurora borealis, they are quite a different animal. They actually depend on the urban environment's unshielded lights to materialize, as NASA's Tony Phillips explains at Spaceweather:

Lately, in communities around the Arctic Circle, people have been seeing colorful lights in the sky. Although they look like auroras, they are not....

They're light pillars, caused by ice crystals in the air which intercept urban lights and spread them into colorful columns. No solar activity is required for the phenomenon. The only ingredients are ice and light pollution.

If you want a more technical explanation of how these gleaming phantasms form, here's a brief explainer. Look for them the next time you're traveling in Finland, or even in your own frigid city at night – when ice crystals are airborne, mini-light pillars can form in the glow of a streetlight.

The Finnish people have had several recent encounters with the pillars. Here are a couple more photos from earlier on January 19 (and one from January 14):

Top photos courtesy of Mika Wist

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Design

    A History of the American Public Library

    A visual exploration of how a critical piece of social infrastructure came to be.

  2. Design

    The Curious Politics of a Montreal Mega-Mall

    The car-dependent suburb it’ll be built in wants to greenlight Royalmount against the city government’s wishes but it needs them to pay for the public infrastructure.

  3. Multicolored maps of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Tampa, denoting neighborhood fragmentation
    Equity

    Urban Neighborhoods, Once Distinct by Race and Class, Are Blurring

    Yet in cities, affluent white neighborhoods and high-poverty black ones are outliers, resisting the fragmentation shown with other types of neighborhoods.

  4. Equity

    Berlin Builds an Arsenal of Ideas to Stage a Housing Revolution

    The proposals might seem radical—from banning huge corporate landlords to freezing rents for five years—but polls show the public is ready for something dramatic.

  5. Design

    There’s a Tile Theft Epidemic in Lisbon

    With a single azulejo fetching hundreds of euros at the city’s more reputable antique stores, these tiles, sitting there out in the open, are easy pickings.