Crepuscular rays extended to (almost) 180° observed from Mt. Großer Zschirnstein, Elbe sandstone mountains, June 8th, 2014
Each year during the Pentecost holidays I undertake together with some friends a cycling tour to the Elbe sandstone mountains. This is usually a good opportunity to look for atmospheric phenomena, since we are out in the open the whole day. However this year we just had the sun shining from a plain blue sky most of the time. I feared that nothing interesting would happen, but I was wrong: In the evening of June 8th, thunderstorms were active about 200 km or more to the northwest from our location (Großer Zschirnstein, 50° 51′ 23″ N, 14° 10′ 34″ E, 561m). The top parts of these clouds acted as apertures to cast crepuscular rays through the sky shortly after our local sunset. To the south the view from this mountain is fully unobstructed since the lookout point is located right above a 70 m high rock cliff. Our struggle to thrust the bicycles up there was rewarded by the beautiful sight of a bright, rosy coloured beam extending from the twilight sky in the northwest to the rising earth shadow in the southeast and passing just below the waxing moon.
Even with a (full frame) fisheye lens it was hard to capture due to its extension of about 180°, so I decided to do panorama stitching from an image series (21:26 CEST: local solar elevation -1,5°). One should keep in mind that in reality crepuscular rays are straight lines and the curved shape in the photo is just a result of the cylindrical projection. Likewise it would have been possible to distort the horizon and make the crepuscular ray straight. Having a look at a panning video may be the best way to understand the geometry. Some minutes later (21:31 CEST: local solar elevation -2,3°) a second beam had appeared quite prominently above the first one, and even more might be detectable by image processing. Though all of them being parallel straight lines in 3D space, the mind is always tempted to interpret them as fanning beams like the emissions from a lighthouse.
Until 21.40 the rays disappeared almost completely apart from the foremost part in the northwest, which itself became quite bright at that time. Around 21.48 the cumulonimbus clouds themselves became visible for a while. This change in illumination and visibility must be caused by the increasing solar depression below the horizon which leads to more vertically inclined sunbeams, until the sun finally sets at around 52° N / 12° E (where the clouds might have been) in 10 km of altitude as well.