WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Clouds conspire to form heart-shaped 'glory'

Posted July 23, 2014

Actually, make that a glory that's shaped like a heart!

One of my favorite parts of meteorology is the great variety of optical phenomena produced by variations in temperature, density, humidity, angle of lightning and especially by particles in the atmosphere, especially ice crystals and water droplets.

I was looking something else up a few days ago and ran across this picture featured on the Space Weather web page. This is a great example of a phenomenon called a "glory." Most of the ones I've seen in photos and have experienced myself (mostly looking out or down from aircraft) appear very nearly circular, because you most often see them atop a fairly smooth layer of clouds, or looking into a rather uniform area of mist.

In the case of this photo (which was taken by Tony Defreece), however, it appears the clouds were shaped in just the right way at that moment to sculpt the apparent shape of the glory into a very nice rainbow-colored heart.

The mechanism of formation for glories is still not 100 percent understood, but evidence is mounting that it involves internal reflections within water droplets that are interspersed with brief passages of light along the outside of the drops as surface waves.

You can learn more about glories and see a lot of nice example photos on the Atmospheric Optics website.

Be sure to explore the series of links along the left side of the page, and keep an eye out for them yourself when you're flying, driving or walking in terrain that allows you to look down toward areas of fog or low clouds.

The glory will always be centered such that the shadow of your head would be in the center, opposite the direction of the sun.

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  • christinebbd Jul 23, 2014

    Thank you Mike! I had no idea these weather phenomena exists. I'll be watching out the plane's window next time.