Spooky Light Beams Were Spotted Above A Montreal Suburb — Here's What They Actually Are

They're caused by a special mix of weather conditions.

Senior Editor
Spooky Light Beams Were Spotted Above A Montreal Suburb — Here's What They Actually Are

Imagine going out to walk your dog, looking up, and seeing ghostly light beams hovering above your town. It might sound like the plot of a cheesy sci-fi B movie, but that's exactly what happened to Reddit user u/Dbonker in the evening of Wednesday, December 8.

The Saint-Hubert resident, 39, snapped a photo of the hazy spectres and took to the social media platform to crowdsource an explanation, wondering if they were catching a glimpse of the northern lights.

Commenters were quick to suggest that u/Dbonker was actually witnessing a phenomenon called light pillars, a dazzling by-product of wintry weather.

"You need a good conjunction of weather patterns" for light pillars to appear, Environment Canada meteorologist Simon Legault told MTL Blog.

from montreal

He explained that the pillars occur when ambient light — like moonlight or, more likely, the suburban glow of street and house lights — hits frozen particles in the atmosphere. The particles could be small, suspended ice crystals or what Legault called fine and "very particularly shaped" snowflakes moving at slow speeds.

Such snowflakes fell in the Montreal area on Wednesday night.

"Those snowflakes are acting like very tiny mirrors," Legault said. When light from below hits the flakes, they reflect it back down, creating the appearance of soft beams.

Light pillars are well-documented and actually not uncommon. Commenters on u/Dbonker's post pointed to a widely-circulated Twitter thread from December 3 that claimed to show examples from throughout North America.

"It's not unusual to find these," Legault said. "It's just pleasing to see."

Thomas MacDonald
Senior Editor
Thomas MacDonald is a Senior Editor for MTL Blog focused on Montreal public transit and is based in Montreal, Quebec.
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