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.
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)