Check out this photo from our own Jerry Hayes, who marveled at a beautiful sight in downtown Huntsville:
The rays that seem to be radiating behind the PNC building are known as crepuscular rays, and they occur when sunlight filters around clouds present in the atmosphere.
The word “crepuscular” is from the Latin word “crepusculum” which means “twilight”. The crepuscular rays can be seen even when the sun is below the horizon.
The darker areas are where the cloud’s shadows are projected across the sky. For a different perspective, take a look a the photo below.
This is what it looks like from above when that happens as the International Space Station orbited above the North Pacific Ocean (latitude 14.3, longitude -102.4) on 19 May 2011 at 12:20:26 GMT. (7:20:26 AM CDT)
Clouds and their long shadows photographed as the International Space Station orbited above the North Pacific Ocean (latitude 14.3, longitude -102.4) on 19 May 2011 at 12:20:26 GMT:
Those shadows happen more often than you would think (as do crepuscular and anticrepuscular rays).
It’s the same ‘shadow,’ by the way, you just see the part of the shadow on the sun’s side of the sky more often than the fainter, less contrasted view on the opposite side.
The above photo from the International Space Station is a great example of how light travels in a straight line (physics experts just heard nails on a chalkboard). Light is both a particle and a wave, and as long as there is nothing blocking it, that wave will travel in a straight line. Yes, it’s true that light also scatters when it hits something (that’s why we’re actually able to see anything at all), and it can be bent by gravity, refracted in water or a pane of glass, etc.; however, in general it can be understood that light follows a straight line pattern. That’s why we get straight shadows like those seen here. (Straight is in the eye of the beholder, by the way.)
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