Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
by Jake Mrozewski
The Gazette was asked about lights in the sky that appeared above McCabe and Pearson last Wednesday. We forwarded the image to Astronomy Professor David Cohen, who responded that “the images look plausibly like northern lights. It’s unusual but not unheard of for them to be visible in SE PA.”
He added that in order for them to be the Northern Lights, they would definitely have to be in the northern part of the sky—while the picture shows them to have been in the south—and also that the light patterns would have had to flicker and pulsate, a question on which our eyewitnesses were divided.
Some Googling also turned up this potential explanation, from a man who saw “tubes of vertical light” in West Chester, PA on the same evening.
Frank Roylance of The Baltimore Sun suggested that they may have been “light pillars,” which are caused “by ground lighting reflecting off flat snow crystals descending through very cold air. Because it’s man-made lighting, the light will consist of any number of different colors… in the up-shining beams of light, the descending crystals appear to form colorful columns or tubes.”
Sorry, Swatties, but to see the Northern Lights you probably should have gone to school in Alaska. Got other questions about our atmosphere? Hit us up at dailygazette [at] swarthmore [dot] edu.