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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … Magical Light?

What Is That … Magical Light?


Now for something completely different!  After preparing more than 120 articles for the Millstone News, focusing on some of the interesting species of animals and plants that we enjoy seeing and learning about at our cottage on White Lake, we have decided to take a step back.  We want to share a few “bigger picture” photos, showing some of the fascinating lighting conditions we experience during our summers at the cottage, photos we think are magical.

Most people are familiar with the old adage “red sky at night sailors delight; red sky in the morning sailors take warning”.  This maxim holds true at mid-latitudes where weather systems generally move from west to east as is the case at our cottage.  Both at sunrise and sunset the sun’s rays travel the longest distance through the earth’s atmosphere due to the curvature of the earth.  This results in the greatest chance of light rays encountering small particles or droplets suspended in the atmosphere.  In addition, there are more particles suspended in the atmosphere in high-pressure systems.  These particles scatter colours from the blue end of the spectrum of white light while reflecting or refracting colours from the red end side of the spectrum.

A red sky at sunset usually heralds fair weather for the next day.  When a high-pressure system approaches from the west around sunset more suspended particles are encountered by the setting sun’s rays, producing the red sky at night. The high-pressure system tends to provide more stable weather the following day, a sailor’s and a cottager’s delight.

A red sky at sunrise typically foreshadows stormy weather later in the day. At sunrise, after a high-pressure system has moved east, the sun’s rays travel through particulate-laden air producing a red sky in the morning.  A departing high-pressure system is followed by a lower pressure system which often involves precipitation and/or winds … sailors and cottagers take warning.

Rainbows are caused by air-born water droplets reflecting, refracting, and dispersing white light into its constituent visible spectrum colours.  These arcs of colour always have red on the outer part and violet on the inner.  The consistent order of colours in a rainbow is red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.   In order to produce a rainbow, the sun needs to be behind the viewer at the same time that rain, fog, or other forms of water droplets are in the air in front of the viewer.  The lower the sun is in the sky the more of an arc of the rainbow will be seen.  There is always a fainter secondary rainbow outside of the primary one.  Sometimes it is clearly visible and other times it is so faint as to be difficult to see.  You can see the faint secondary rainbow to the top left in this photograph.

Another atmospheric phenomenon that typically, but not always, occurs around sunset is what some people refer to as god’s rays.  The scientific term is crepuscular rays, deriving from the Latin word for twilight, when these rays are most often visible.  The rays can appear as different shades of light radiating from behind clouds or as white beams of light.  The sun’s rays are scattered or refracted by dust and small droplets suspended in the atmosphere next to clouds making the rays visible to the naked eye.  The earlier “red sky at night” photo includes coloured crepuscular rays. The rays in the following picture appear as white light and seem to be radiating out and up from behind the clouds.

Our final image is one we are guaranteed to see every fall.  As we approach the end of our cottaging season we are always treated to the spectacular reds, yellows, and greens the trees around the lake display … their fall colours.  This fall scenery becomes even more magical on those bright sunlight mornings when the lake is calm.  The reflection doubles our viewing pleasure.

So, while we thoroughly enjoy the broad range of wildlife species we see at the cottage, we also appreciate the amazing magical lighting that mother nature treats us to.  It is always interesting since it is constantly changing throughout our time at the cottage.  In addition to being magical, it also provides us with helpful meteorological insights.

For this article, we relied on the following websites to gain a better understanding of magical light:;; and


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