DENVER (CBS4) – Atmospheric conditions were perfect along Colorado’s Front Range early Tuesday to create a unique sight in the morning sky. The display of light, known as light pillars or ice pillars, appears to point straight up from objects on the ground.
— David Baxter III (@ColoradoWXNut) February 4, 2020
The beams are created when light near the surface reflects off of tiny ice crystals that are suspended in the atmosphere. Light sources can include anything ranging from the headlights on a vehicle to the lights of a city, shopping center or airport.
Ice crystals come in a variety of shapes ranging from the stereotypical snowflake, known as a dendrite, to other shapes that include columns, plates and needles. The temperature of the atmosphere determines the shape of ice crystals.
In the case of the atmosphere around Denver on Tuesday morning, the air was cold enough for ice crystals to be shaped like tiny, flat plates. This shape helps lights on the surface to reflect and create the vertical beams.