A hiker on top of a mountain recently noticed something incredible in the sky: their own shadow, writ enormous across the sky. Even more spectacular, their shadow was encased in a glorious rainbow halo, as if they were an angel or even a god.
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So what is this thing?
Turns out, amazing as this sight is, it’s not actually a sign of divinity or a message from heaven. Rather, it’s a strange phenomenon known as the Brocken Spectre (in German, Brockengespenst), after the mountain in Germany where it is most commonly seen. First identified by a naturalist in the 1700s, this phenomenal sight can be seen anywhere in the world where an observer can position themselves in the air between the sun and low lying clouds or mist (such as a mountain, cliff, or even in an aircraft). The German mountain peak, however, tends to have particularly good conditions for such a thing to appear.
Additionally, the “rainbow halo” around this giant shadow is called a Glory, because of course it is. These images, often mistaken for circular rainbows, but much smaller, appear opposite the sun’s position in the sky, just like larger rainbows, and are caused when the sun shines down past the observer into clouds at their level or below it. For this reason it is sometimes called a “pilot’s glory.”
BRB, must plan a hiking trip to the Brocken Peak because I, for one, have just put this particular item on my bucket list.