Abstract

Numerical simulation of the nocturnal light pillar, an atmospheric optical phenomenon inadvertently caused by humans, reveals that the pillars are virtually completely polarized at the Brewster angle for ice as a result of the geometry of rays reflected off near-horizontally aligned ice crystals from a nearby light source. It is also shown for plate crystals that the first-order internal reflection contributes importantly to the display and that the depth of the crystal-containing layer and the effects of atmospheric attenuation serve to limit the height above the horizon to which the pillars are visible. The model findings have been verified with experiments involving the generation of artificial pillars from linearly polarized light sources. Both observations and model predictions support the view that the plate ice crystals causing the display have tilt angles that are distributed normally from the horizontal plane.

© 1987 Optical Society of America

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