The other day I was flying back from the Philippines. Just after take off I looked out and saw a rainbow around the shadow of my airplane’s! At first I didn’t believe what I was seeing, so I quickly scrambled to grab my phone and take a picture before it disappeared. Luckily, I managed to get a fairly poor shot of the rainbow to prove that I wasn’t imagining it.
Glory – That’s What It’s Called!
Once I reached home, I was really curious to know what I’d just seen and how it was formed. I immediately Googled it and as it turned out, this optical phenomenon is called a “glory” or an “anti-corona” or “pilot’s bow” and is quite common. A glory occurs when the observer is situated between the sun and clouds. The sun needs to be directly behind the head of the observer with clouds below. What I found amusing was that although glories are extremely common, their appearance is still a subject of theory and research. Huh, go figure. I thought science would have a simple explanation for this by now.
Glories consist of concentric circles that get dimmer towards the centre, with red on the outside and blue in the inside. And like rainbows, a glory is centered on the antisolar point, which coincides (in this case) with airplane’s shadow.
So the next time you take off in an airplane during the day, make sure you keep your eye out for rainbow around your airplane’s shadow on the clouds below. I have to admit, it does look very surreal and very cool.