[Science Wednesday] Star Trek… or weather phenomena?

Hello Science Nerds!

Yep, it’s Science Wednesday, and today I bring you a thing of beauty – and possibly pictorial evidence that Star Trek-style transporters have already been invented and are being used in Canada. 

Cartoon of a girl and her cat and light rays

Want to be successful business? You’ll need an enquiring and inquisitive mind.

Thanks to a 2-year-old wailing scientist-in-waiting, Timothy Joseph Elzinga of North Bay, Ontario, Canada, woke up in the middle of the night and saw beams of brightly coloured light dancing the sky.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen anything like this — in photographs, and certainly not in real life.

As he stood outside in his pants in -18ºC, our intrepid star-gazer took some beautiful photographs of a weather phenomenon called light pillars.

They’re not magical (although they certainly give the impression a unicorn is about to materialise); they’re an atmospheric optical effect — a vertical band of light that appears to extend above or below a light source.

They’re from the halo family of phenomena and are called sun pillars or solar pillars when they come from the sun… and they can also come from the moon or from streetlights.

In Elzinga’s case, the light was reflected from streetlights, traffic lights, and other terrestrial illumination.

Light pillars appears when the air is cold enough for water vapour to form flat, hexagonal crystals. As the crystals fall, they tend to orient themselves more or less horizontally and en masse, their surfaces act like a giant mirror — which reflects any light up or down.

When turbulence in the air disturbs the crystals, their surfaces change angle slightly causing the reflection — the light pillar — to strs-e-e-e-etch into a column.

Larger crystals give you bigger columns.

They’re not real, either. There’s no beam of light coming from the light source; it’s an optical illusion caused by the reflections from the ice crystals. They are, however, staggeringly beautiful… and I like to think that one day when we invent a teleporter that doesn’t turn Jeff Goldblum into a giant fly, this is what beaming someone up will look like.

You might be wondering why I’m bringing you Science Wednesday; well, partly it’s just because I love science, and I like to share the love. Partly it’s because people are becoming more and more scientifically illiterate and anti-science, and I’m doing my little bit to improve humanity.

And partly it’s because if you want to be successful in business, you gotta be a critical thinker. You have to be curious, interested, nosy about people, about life, and about how things work. Because if you can question everything, and try new stuff, and be willing to be wrong, you’ll go far.

You’ll discover what doesn’t work, and discard it. And you’ll discover what does work, and do more of it.

Which is what me and my Small Business Superheroes are doing all the time:




Vicky Fraser is a copywriter, author, and entrepreneur. She really did run away with the circus… but when she’s not swinging from a trapeze, she’s showing other copywriters and small business owners how to work with better clients, make more money, and stop missing bathtimes, first words, and dinners with angry partners. In fact, she wrote the book on it. Get your copy here.

PS Today’s cartoon: light pillars… or a tractor beam?

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