WARREN, Pa. – While it may have appeared to be the start of an alien invasion, or that a number of Warren residents were being beamed to the U.S.S. Enterprise Thursday night, the “pillars of light” seen across Warren was actually a natural phenomenon.
As temperatures dipped close to and below zero overnight, pillars of light began to stretch towards the night sky.
“Light pillars are optical phenomena that occur in extremely cold atmospheres, when flat ice crystals form close to the ground,” according to scienceabc.com. “They reflect natural and artificial light in columns that extend through the sky.”
According to the National Weather Service in State College, temperatures were below zero across the area late Thursday night and into Friday morning.
Those temperatures, along with little or no wind, created the optimal conditions for the pillars to form.
“For a light pillar to form, the atmosphere must be calm and cold, with an absence of wind,” according to scienceabc.com. “Although wind is not directly tied to this phenomenon, it will likely disrupt the reflection of light.”
Although the pillars resemble light beams, they are actually an optical illusion.
The pillars form as light sources, a street light for example, travel into space and are reflected by the ice crystals in the atmosphere. The effect is similar to that of the sun reflecting off a body of water as it rises or sets.
While common across the arctic regions, the phenomenon is rare across the contiguous 48 states. Pillars of light were recorded in Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan and other northern states in February 2021.
Temperatures are expected to dip to below 10 degrees again Friday night, according to the NWS. Leaving open the possibility the phenomenon could be witnessed again.
“It was so wild to see,” Warren resident Marlo Nowacki said. “I’m glad I was able to get pictures.”