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Emily LakdawallaNovember 22, 2005

A fun picture for holiday travel

A fun NASA explainer just crossed my email inbox and I thought I'd share it. Here in the U.S. millions of people (including me) are about to board airplanes to travel to visit family for the Thanksgiving holiday, which occurs on Thursday, the 24th. Many of us will irritate our fellow passengers by keeping our windows open, spoiling others' view of the movie but taking advantage of the opportunity to see Earth from the air. I never get tired of watching landforms pass by my window. Anyway, even if you can't see any land because of clouds, you can see some pretty cool optical effects if the Sun is on the correct side of the airplane. Here's one example:

A multi-ring glory surrounds an aircraft's shadow

Philip Laven

A multi-ring glory surrounds an aircraft's shadow
Glories are often seen from aircraft. Get a seat opposite the sun and watch them ring the aircraft's shadow - or more accurately, where your own shadow would be. These rings are formed when light is scattered backwards by individual water droplets in the cloud. The more uniform the size of the cloud droplets, the more rings you will see. They swell and contract as you travel over clouds with smaller or larger droplets.

There are lots more interesting optical effects that can be seen from aircraft. Since I will be one of those holiday travelers I will not likely be adding entries to this weblog very frequently over the next few days until I return to work on the 29th. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Read more: pretty pictures, fun, Earth, atmospheres

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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