The European Space Agency (ESA) released this beautiful image to the public on January 21, 2019. Taken by Daniel Michalik, a research fellow at ESA, it was a winner in the astronomy category in the Royal Society photography competition in 2017. It shows what’s called a light pillar.
Light pillars are caused by ice crystals drifting in Earth’s air. This particular light pillar has every reason to exist. It’s over the coldest place on Earth – Antarctica – in fact, the South Pole. There, ESA said:
… the dry, cold conditions allow for observations of a number of rare celestial phenomena that are seen far less often elsewhere. The sight captured beautifully here by Daniel is a good example of such a phenomenon: a light pillar.
The moon illuminates a column of bright light between it and the frozen plateau below, creating a scene akin to a dramatic lunar spotlight beaming downwards. This is caused by moonlight reflecting from and refracting through ice crystals suspended in our planet’s atmosphere, producing a diffuse, eerie glow …
Bottom line: An award-winning photo of a light pillar – made by the moon – over the South Pole.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.