Search Results for crepuscular rays

Crepuscular rays from above and below

Yesterday there were observations of spread Crepuscular rays over Germany. The satellite image shows the origin of the long shadows: a powerful squall line over northwest Germany. The length of the shadows is about 400km – this is enormous!


Near Pforzheim in Baden-Württemberg Michael Großmann observed rays passing from the setting sun to the antisolar point. Rene Winter was in the district Gotha, Thuringia and saw crepuscular rays that were unusual intensively. Laura Kranich in Kiel wasn’t far away from the thunderstorms and had intense Crepuscular rays, too. There were single beams that ran across the entire sky.

Crepuscular rays are rays of sunlight that appear to radiate from the point in the sky where the sun is located. These rays, which stream through gaps in clouds (particularly stratocumulus) or between other objects, are columns of sunlit air separated by darker cloud-shadowed regions. Despite seeming to converge at a point, the rays are in fact near-parallel shafts of sunlight, and their apparent convergence is a perspective effect (similar, for example, to the way that parallel railway lines seem to converge at a point in the distance).

The name comes from their frequent occurrences during twilight hours (those around dawn and dusk), when the contrasts between light and dark are the most obvious. Crepuscular comes from the Latin word “crepusculum”, meaning twilight.

Crepuscular rays extended to (almost) 180° observed from Mt. Großer Zschirnstein, Elbe sandstone mountains, June 8th, 2014

2014_06_08_2126S_IMGP3399_3402_3405_ Panorama_crop_fil

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.

Reflected Crepuscular Rays


In the evening of April 18, 2012, I observed some light rays from 2962 metres high Mt Zugspitze [1]. These rays did not emanate from the sun which at the moment I took the photograph was above the rays under the cloud layer. And there were bright reflections of the sun on the ground indicating that there must have been a large lake [2].

Taking a look at the map I realized that Lake Constance was in that direction, but there were no reports that it is visible from Mt Zugspitze. Just the bright reflections of sunlight made it possible to recognize it. The surface of 536 square kilometres large Lake Constance, the third largest lake in Europe, reflected the sunlight scattering it towards me. The shadows of the mountains between me and Lake Constance were projected upon the cloud layer from below creating this wonderful natural spectacle.

A similar observation can be found here: Reflected sunray

Author: Claudia Hinz, Germany

Crepuscular rays in colourful twilight

In August 2011 I noticed colourful twilights with purple light and venus belt in France and Germany during some days. These intense sunsets resulted from volcanic aerosols in the atmosphere.

On August 12, 2011 I could take some photos of the sunset with the purple light near the Gorges du Verdon (Provence/France).  Additionally, there were beautiful crepuscular rays in the sky (photo on top).

Back in Germany I could photograph also such fantastic sunsets with crepuscular rays and anticrepuscular rays.

These pictures (12) were taken near Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany on August 18 and 23, 2011.

Author: Daniel Eggert, Augsburg, Germany

Alpenglow and Crepuscular Rays from above

In the morning of November 11, 2010, Anke Morbitzer from Gladbeck, Germany could enjoy the alpenglow from above during a flight from Milan over the Bern and Pennine Alps. Especially impressive were the shadows of the mountains being projected upward into the haze. Just before, also the upcoming twilight with its impressive colours had been very exciting.

Crepuscular rays in desert dust

After the twilights had been getting normal through the past three weeks, where hardly any volcanic aerosoles from Sarychev volcano had been measured, I was very astonished when I saw an intense purple light with crepuscular rays about half an hour before sunrise (sun elevation at -6°) in the morning of November 17. The crepuscular rays crossed the whole sky near the horizon, converging at the antisolar point (123).

Of course I immediately asked my colleagues from the Hohenpeissenberg observatory about the phenomenon. And I got a very surprising answer:
At that moment there were two different layers of dust from the Sahara desert above us, a lower one at an altitude of about 8.5 kms with dust from the western parts of the Sahara, and a higher one at about 11 kms, which contained dust from the eastern part of the Sahara. There were two different currents of air at higher levels which overlapped each other above the Alps.
It is new for me to learn that such twilights are also possible in desert dust, just as this dust up to now only caused a kind of certain dimness in the air. But at that moment there was no desert dust directly above us; I only looked into the layers of dust.

However, there was an extra bonus on the next morning. Unfortunately could only watch it from the valley:

Author: Claudia Hinz, Brannenburg, Germany

Reflected rays in windows

On 18th February 2014 at about 8:25 AM local time I observed a thick but shallow fog which streched to the altitude of 30-50 meters from the surface. I was photographing the fog from the top of an 11 story building when I noticed the strange reflections by some windows. (1234)

The building where the phenomenom was formed was about 250 meters from me in the NW direction, just opposite the Sun which was SE, behind me at an altitude of 15 degrees, just above the fog layer.

The location was Budapest, Hungary.

Author: György Répás

Another Post to this Topic: 

Perspective of a crepuscular ray

We most always notice crepuscular rays as fingers of light and darkness that stretch toward us from the horizon.

However, on occasion it’s possible to observe them “sideways”. The photo above offering such a view was taken from Kämpfelbach (Germany), at sunset, as the cumulonimbus anvil at far right effectively blocked sunlight from reaching the low hills in the distance – middle and left.

Note that the wedge-shaped, blue-gray shadow from this towering cloud extends all of the way to the antisolar point. Photo taken on April 22, 2011

Author: Michael Großmann, Kämpfelbach, Germany

Rays across the sky

The photo features an array of anticrepuscular-rays as observed in Kämpfelbach near Karsruhe, Germany on July 31, 2010. I will never forget this sight. Sunset was fast approaching, and I first noticed faint crepuscular-rays above the western horizon. Just after sundown, the rays could be seen stretching across the sky from west to east. On this photo montage, east is at left center and west at far right. This display lasted for about ten minutes. To add to the show, the rosy glow of Earth’s rising shadow (belt of venus) and the shadow band itself were visible just above the eastern horizon (left center). These anticrepuscular and crepuscular rays were cast by clouds below the western horizon. Viewing perspective makes the rays seem to converge toward the horizon; though, they’re actually parallel.

Photo details: Nikon D40x camera; 16 pictures in vertical-order; focus length 18 mm; F/3.5; 1/60 second exposure time; ISO 100.

Posted by Michael Großmann, Germany

Cloud Iridescence along the Alps and in Hungary

On January 10, 2015, unusually bright and colourful iridescent clouds were observed along the Alps between Switzerland and Hungary. To display the huge area in which the observations were made, Kevin Förster plotted all known observations into the satellite image taken at 12 noon that day.

The cloud iridescence was observed in 7 countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, Italy (Southern Tyrol), Slowakia and Hungary). The westernmost observation point is Fribourg in Switzerland, the easternmost one is Tápiószolos in Hungary. This means that the iridescent clouds were observed along a distance of 965 kilometres and in an area measuring about 122,500 square kilometres, which ist about a third of the area of Germany. There is no case of a similarly distinctive iridence known so far.

Many observers reported iridescence stretching up to large angles from the sun and a great similarity to nacreous clouds. These form above northern latitudes at very low stratospheric temperatures beneath -80°C in the ozone layer. The iridescent clouds were visible until 20 minutes after sunset, followed after an intense afterglow on clouds which still received sunlight up to 45 minutes after sunset. At some places eye-catching crepuscular rays were also observed. The 30 hPa-Chart, however, shows that it was much too warm for polar stratospheric clouds to form.

Nevertheless the cloud layer must have formed at higher altitudes than normal. One observer reportet that all airplanes flew beneath the clouds, and also many pictures show contrails below the cloud layer. So the clouds probably formed at more than 12,000 metres above ground.

Discussions about the weather situation in our forum and measurements by the Austrian weather service (Central Institution for Meteorology and Geodynamics ZAMG) showed several peculiarities of the situation: Strong foehn winds caused gravity waves which peaking at about 14,000 metres above ground. This was the level of the tropopause, which was unusually high for these latitudes that day. And it also was unusually cold, as a radiosonde launched in Vienna measured a temperature of -75.7°C. The highest of the multilayered foehn clouds formed along the tropopause. Due to their high altitude, their droplets were of the optimal size to cause iridescence. Unfortunately, it can not be clarified if there also formed small ice crystals like in nacreous clouds because strong vertical movements may impede the freezing of the droplets.

Video from Thomas Klein, Miesbach, Southern Germany

Thanks to all who put their pictures at our disposal and helped us with data, special knowledge and hints to clarify the reason for this phenomenon. The discussion can be found, together with a lot of photographs and some time lapse videos in the forum of the Arbeitskreis Meteore e.V.

Authors: Claudia Hinz and Kevin Förster