Skier Uses Smartphone to Capture Incredible Light Halos in the Swiss Alps

Light Halo Explanation GIF

When amateur blogger Michael Schneider went skiing in the Swiss Alps with friends, he was looking to have a day of fun and adventure. But what he didn't expect was to take a photograph that would cause a sensation online. As Schneider waited for a friend on the mountain, he took advantage of the moment to test out the camera on his new smartphone. The resulting photographs, which capture striking halos around the sun, went viral after he posted one to Twitter.

What followed were a flurry of explanations about why, and how, these rings appear around the sun. A light halo is an optical phenomenon that occurs when light interacts with ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere. While we often think of a halo as being exclusively circular, they can actually take many different shapes. From arcs to light pillars, some are more common than others.

Luckily for us novices, several specialists set about annotating Schneider's photograph. Mark McCaughrean, Senior Advisor for Science & Exploration at the European Space Agency, used information gathered from the website Atmospheric Optics to create a wonderful annotation of the different halos visible in Schneider's photo. Looking at his diagram, it's incredible to see how many halo examples were captured in one image.

The complete circle formed closest to the sun is what most people simply call a halo; but to be more specific, it's actually known as a 22° halo. There are also rarer halos in the photo, such as a Supralateral arc toward the top of the image. This faintly colored rainbow arc forms when “rays pass between the side and basal (end) faces of singly oriented hexagonal columns.”

Overall, Schneider's experience is a great reminder that even if you don't have professional equipment on hand, it doesn't mean that you can't capture a meaningful photograph. Read more about Schneider's experience on his blog and see more photographs from his time on the mountain below.

While skiing in Switzerland, Michael Schneider captured an incredible photo of light halos on the mountain.

Light Halo by Michael Schneider

This annotation helps explain the different light phenomena seen in the image.

Explanation of How a Light Halo Works

Illustration: Mark McCaughrean

Here are more photos from the mountain, which show how the halos became more apparent over time.

Light Halo by Michael Schneider

Light Halo by Michael Schneider

Light Halo by Michael Schneider

Light Halo by Michael Schneider

Michael Schneider: Website | Twitter

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Michael Schneider.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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