Oh, Canada! Yes, we can see you from here!

Photo: Lights of Canada. Photo by Reynolds & Dills.
Lights of Canada, seen across Lake Erie from Ohio.

by Jay Reynolds

For years, Suzie Dills has told me about seeing lights across the lake when she walks her dog at night. I always joked that she was making it up (knowing full well that she wasn’t). It wasn’t long before we looked on the map and determined that they were lights from Canada (or Narnia).

Well, I’ve always told her to call me when they are happening, Sunday night (May 5) was the night.

When I arrived at Huntington Beach, I knew exactly where to look, but didn’t really see much. (I know what you may be thinking.) I saw a few lights but not the lights, cars, houses, and small children that she’d planted in my anticipation.

But when I raised my binoculars… “Ole Eagle-Eyes Suzie” was correct!

The horizon was littered with many, many red lights and the occasional building light as well. This easily spanned 30 degrees along the horizon. You could clearly make out the thermal boundary layer above the lights. Video would show the scintillation of the lights.

It was terrific to see this across the lake on such a grand scale!

Those of us old enough to remember antenna TV, Sunday night would have been great fun to pick up signals from Toledo, Detroit, and maybe even Erie, Penn. (only to learn they are watching the same “Lost in Space” I was watching).

Higher up, through the haze, you could see Procyon, Pollux, and Castor taking their final bow of the spring; farewell winter friends, we’ll see you soon enough.

The warmer air temperatures had led us to this optical refraction across Lake Erie the previous two nights. This happens in the spring and autumn when the lake water temperature is radically different than the air temperature! Cold lake temps (43 degrees) and warm air temps (65 degrees) set up a trap/ducting which bends/refracts the light over the horizon. The effect is somewhat similar to a hot summer day when blacktop has that mirror/mirage look to it. The pavement is very hot, the air is much cooler.

The measured distance from Bay Village to Canada is approximately 50 miles. Because of the curvature of the Earth, we are usually limited to approximately 16-20 miles line-of-sight.

Bottom line, science is fun, nature can fool us into thinking “a bridge to Canada would be half the cost we thought,” and Suzie has binocular eyes after all!

Jay Reynolds is the CAA’s Observatory Director, astronomy instructor at CSU, and well-known as a NASA Solar System Ambassador.

Photo: Stars through thin clouds. Photo by Reynolds & Dills.
Stars above, Canada’s lights below.

Photos: Jay Reynolds & Suzie Dills: Canon 400 (Xti) Single shot, 10 sec, ISO 1600, Processing MaxIm D/L

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Pillars of the Sun

Photo: Brilliant sky with a sun pillar rising over trees. Photo by James Guilford.
A sun pillar rises into a firey December morning sky.

In the mornings and evenings of the cold seasons we are occasionally favored with glorious sunrises and sunsets. A few of those beautiful moments boast something beyond colored clouds and sky; they host sun pillars! Unknown Object

Sun pillars are the result of low-angle sunlight reflected from flat plate-shaped ice crystals suspended high in the air. Pillars can extend from approximately where the Sun sits, near the horizon, to points straight up and high above.

Monday morning, December 13, presented one of those fleeting moments as I drove to the office. I hurriedly pulled into a parking lot, extracted my camera from its case, and shot a few photos of the beautiful sky. A few minutes later, with the Sun slightly higher and the clouds slightly heavier, the fiery colors had faded and the sun pillar was gone.

Pillars, such as I saw, can also occur at night in the colder months. Lights from streetlamps, parking lots, buildings, and so forth can be reflected by atmospheric ice and produce delicately beautiful light pillars that are often mistaken for auroras.

So as you start or end your day, take the occasional glance at the sky. Perhaps you, too, will see the pillars of the Sun!