Beautiful lunar eclipse light show

On February 20th, 2008 I was out taking some photos of the total lunar eclipse. About 1/4 to full eclipse, I started noticing a red vertical light beam coming from the eastern horizon. At first I thought it was a jet contrail, but the light strength increased, and I noticed many more vertical light beams along the southern horizon. These beams were faint, and were red and green in color. I used a night vision viewer and saw what looked like vertical banding along the southern horizon. I took the zoom lens off my camera and took a one minute exposure looking south. Here is the photo.

Vertical light beams
Vertical light beams

I am not sure what the reason for this light show since I can’t find any reference material citing the light beaming phenomenon. I suspect it has something to do with refractive light reflection between the celestial objects. I was only able to snap one photo. Cloud cover came in and a snow squall followed on that 15 degree night. I waited to see if any light banding would show up after the full eclipse, but it didn’t. I have never seen this phenomenon during any other lunar eclipse. If someone out there could give me a scientific reason for the lunar eclipse causing a vertical light beaming around the horizon, I would like to hear about it. One thing is for sure, the light show was one of the most beautiful things I had ever experienced.

After hearing Kat’s description below, I think the effect was due to a few city lights reflecting on ice crystals in the air, which were in the atmosphere before a snow squall came in. It was still a beautiful sight. One of the first times I would consider city lights beautiful. ;-)  

Here are some other photos from that night, including a not so good photo of the light beam I saw in the eastern sky (jet contrail also seen, and the moon for reference)

Strong vertical beam
Strong vertical beam
Begining lunar eclipse
Begining lunar eclipse
Near full lunar eclipse
Near full lunar eclipse

 

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3 thoughts on “Beautiful lunar eclipse light show”

  1. Thanks Kat. That is a very plausible explanation for what I saw as there was snowfall soon after the photos where taken, and there could well have been some snow aloft ahead of the clouds. The lights on the southern horizon where I live could have been from beaming lights from an interstate. Shoot, that takes away from my feeling of how neat it was to see.

  2. I was actually just googling this because I saw the exact same thing from up here in Canada last night. Only I called a few friends and told them to look outside. Nobody else could see them but me.
    Consider yourself lucky you saw such a beautiful phenomonen. Ive never in my life seen it before.
    Thanks for posting your beautiful photos.

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