Glory (optical phenomenon)
A glory is an optical phenomenon that resembles an iconic saint's halo about the shadow of the observer's head. The effect is believed to happen due to classical wave tunneling, when light nearby the droplet tunnels through air inside the droplet and, in the case of glory, is emitted backwards due to resonance effects.
The angular size is much smaller than a rainbow, about 5° to 20°, depending on the size of the droplets. The glory can only be seen when the observer is directly between the sun and cloud of refracting water droplets. Hence, it is commonly observed whilst airborne, with the glory surrounding the airplane's shadow on clouds (this is often called The Glory of the Pilot). Glories can also be seen from mountains and tall buildings, when there are clouds or fog below the level of the observer. The phenomenon is related to the optical phenomenon anthelion.
The scientific explanation is still the subject of debates and research. In 1947, the Dutch astronomer Hendrik van de Hulst suggested that surface waves are involved. He speculated that the colored rings of the glory are caused by two-ray interference between "short" and "long" path surface waves—which are generated by light rays entering the droplets at diametrically opposite points (both rays suffer one internal reflection). A new theory by Brazilian physicist Herch Moysés Nussenzveig, however, suggests that the light energy beamed back by a glory originates mostly from classical wave tunneling, which is when light rays that missed a droplet can still transfer energy into it.
Glories are often seen in association with a Brocken spectre, the apparently enormously magnified shadow of an observer, cast (when the Sun is low) on clouds below the mountain the viewer is standing on. The name derives from the Brocken, the tallest peak of the Harz mountain range in Germany. Because the peak is above the cloud level and the area frequently misty, conditions conducive to casting a shadow on a cloud layer are common. Giant shadows that seemed to move by themselves due to movement of the cloud layer (this movement is another part of the definition of the Brocken Spectre), and that were surrounded by optical glory halos, may have contributed to the reputation the Harz mountains hold as a refuge for witches and evil spirits. In Goethe's Faust, the Brocken is called the Blocksberg and is the site of the Witches' Sabbath on Walpurgis Night.
Glories in culture
C. T. R. Wilson saw a glory while working as a temporary observer at the Ben Nevis weather station. Inspired by the impressive sight, he decided to build a device for creating clouds in the laboratory, so that he could make a synthetic, small-scale glory. His work led directly to the cloud chamber, a device for detecting ionizing radiation for which he and Arthur Compton received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1927.
In China, this phenomenon is called Buddha's light. It was often observed on cloud-shrouded high mountains, such as Huangshan Mountains and Mount Emei. Records of the phenomenon at Mount Emei date back to A.D. 63. The colorful halo always surrounds the observer's own shadow, and thus was often taken to show the observer's personal enlightenment (associated with Buddha or divinity).
Glories in literature
Leo Frankowski made glories a key plot element in his Conrad Stargard saga, where the protagonist and title character is sent back in time to the 13th century where he has to establish himself and cope with various crises including planning for the eventual Mongol invasion of Eastern Europe in 1241. In the third book, The Radiant Warrior, Stargard begins building a modern army and uses the reliable glories along one stretch of his boot camp to invoke religious faith-backed esprit de corps and feelings of elite invincibility in his newly forming cadre. The same phenomenon dupes the highly pious heir apparent of the Polish duchy into strongly supporting the new model army's pragmatic departures from the day's chivalristic practices.
This atmospheric effect also makes at least one appearance in Gothic fiction. In James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, George Colwan walks to the top of Arthur's Seat on a foggy day, while his half-brother Robert Wringhim secretly follows him with murderous intent. George sees shimmering colored light in front of him. Then he sees the shadow of an enormous dark figure advancing toward him threateningly—the Brocken spectre created by the shadow of Robert sneaking up behind him. In other words, the "good" George is surrounded by a glory, while the "evil" Robert appears as a dark spectre.
In Masami Kurumada's Saint Seiya comic book, which is inspired by Greek mythology, warriors belonging to divine armies battle each other for possession of the Earth. The main characters, warriors known as Saints, belong to Athena's army, and one of the antagonistic armies they face belongs to the Olympic Gods, composed of warriors called the Angels. As the Saints wear protective armors called Cloths, which represent the 88 astronomical constellations, the Angels don similar attire, their armors being known as Glory, which Kurumada named after the optical phenomenon in reference to it being traditionally associated to angels in religious imagery, and the Glory armors represent angels in different poses and sizes.
Glory encountered during a hike in An Teallach, Scotland.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Glories.|
- Does the glory have a simple explanation? Opt. Lett. 27, 1379-1381 (2002), January 2012, retrieved 8 January 2012
- Laven, Philip (15 July 2008), How are glories formed, retrieved 13 December 2008
Mayes, Lawrence (2003-09-01), Glories - an Atmospheric Phenomenon, retrieved 2007-09-04
Nussenzveig, H. Moysés (January 2012), The Science of the Glory, retrieved Jan 8, 2012