Wednesday, November 28, 2007

St. Elmo's fire in Switzerland

On Nov/14/2007 between 18:00 and 19:00 CET St. Elmo's fire appeared on a tower at the summit of Mt. Gäbris in Switzerland. The phenomenon was captured with a high sensitive video camera operated by Mark Vornhusen of Meteomedia, a private weather company.

There is a 25m metallic tower located on the summit of Mt. Gäbris (1241m). Three webcams are fixed on top of the tower, looking in different directions. One of these cameras shows a part of the tower, a metallic extension arm, in the outermost right corner of the image. St. Elmos's fire became visible at this extension arm.

The St. Elmo's fire developed during a snow thunderstorm. Only one lightning strike occurred during this storm. The strike is visible on the webcam images at 18:55 CET as a sudden flare of the image and was heard by the author, who lives 2km away from the summit. The lightning strike was not close to the tower, because the flare was not very bright. The cameras operate with a special software that is able to capture all bright objects on the night sky, even if the duration is only a fraction of a second (lightning, meteors).

The St. Elmo's fire was first visible on the webcam images at 18:05 CET and lasted about two minutes. The second and most intense appearance occurred between 18:40 and 18:50 CET, followed by the lightning strike at 18:55. During the 10 minute interval between 18:40 and 18:50 CET the weather station, which is also located on top of the tower, measured a wind gust of 75 m/s (270 km/h). This is obviously not a real wind speed. More likely it is an interference of the high voltage and the St. Elmo's fire to the anemometer. The ultrasonic anemometer uses sound speed to measure the wind speed ( ).

To the authors knowledge it seems to be the first time ever St. Elmo's fire was imaged, at least a "classic" one that occurred on the ground and not during a flight on an airplane.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Animal Optics

In this blog we have already seen photos of spiderwebs scattering rays of light, and even a thistle seed showing spectral colours. Now I would like to contribute to this collection with another possible source for observing this optical phenomenon: cat's hair. The pictures attached show the dark Sámán (of Mónika Landy-Gyebnár) and the white Manci (my cat). When light comes from the appropriate angle, their fur can display the colours of the rainbow surprisingly clearly. Please, click the images to see it better. Full size photos of Sámán's and Manci's shining hair are also available.

The other photo is another "animal test". Given that birds' feathers have a very regular structure, I was interested whether they show corona-like diffraction if we place one in front of a light source. I found that the repetitive structure of barbs, barbules and tiny hooks interlocking on them create beautiful interference patterns. This picture - somewhat out of focus - shows an owl's feather (a secondary from its wing) with a lamp behind it. The pattern is curved because the feather itself has a bent surface. Further images: #1, #2, #3

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Fog shadow of TV tower in San Francisco

Fog shadow of Sutro tower, San Francisco. These fascinating shadows look odd since humans are not used to seeing shadows in three dimensions. The thin fog was just dense enough to be illuminated by the light that passed through the gaps in a structure or in a tree. As a result, the path of an object shadow through the "fog" appears darkened. In a sense, these shadow lanes are similar to crepuscular rays, which are caused by cloud shadows, but here, they're caused by an object shadows.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A strange kind of glory

I have often seen glories which appeared to be elliptical (and not circular) or vertically disrupted. This was always caused by the projection onto an uneven cloud cover. But on November 18, 2007, I could observe a "vaulted" glory from Mt Wendelstein (1835m) in the Bavarian Alps. The strange glory appeared in an isolated stratocumulus cloud which adapted to the shape of a mountain. Its colours ended irregularly on its outer fringe like those of a glory around the sun which pass over to cloud iridescence. There is no circular shape recognizable in the colours outside the inner glory rings. The pictures are taken using a polarization filter and the contrast has been increased.

Another observation which might be related to mine, has been made on January 01, 2007 by Stefan Rubach on Mt Großer Arber.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Perspectively broken shadow

When there are swelling cloud parts on the surface of an unbroken cloud cover, it sometimes can happen that the shadow of a pole projected onto this cloud cover appears kind of broken. I could observe such a shadow broken perspectively on August 18, 2007, at 18.15 hours CET on the top of Mt. Wendelstein (1835m), when the shadow of the transmitting aerial of the Bavaria Broadcast fell upon such a cloud cover, surrounded by a glory which appeared three-dimensional.