YAKIMA — Mystery solved.
Following the publication of a story on the mystical-looking orb of light witnessed (and subsequently photographed) by a Bandon, Ore., elk hunter named Scott Vierck, two readers — both extremely accomplished outdoorsmen — contacted me to explain what it was.
The photo and story ran in Wednesday’s Diversions section of the Union-Bulletin.
Lynn Buchanan, one of Central Washington’s most experienced climbers, has seen the phenomenon many times in the mountains was a bit surprised that I hadn’t seen it myself during my climbing days. (Hey, my climbing resume pales in comparison to someone like Buchanan, an iconic figure in the climbing community.)
The phenomenon, he emailed, was something that climbers “since the days of the early Swiss” have known about and referred to as “the Spectre on the Brocken,” the name a reference to a German peak on which climbers often saw it. “It is the sun creating a shadow in the mist below you,” Buchanan wrote.
And Jeff Reynolds, whose fascination with the outdoors has taken him around the world, to mountaintops and into the abyss in some of the world’s deepest caves, explained the mystery even further. (Jeff’s one of those scientists who have a way of making even a scientific explanation understandable by far-dimmer intellectual lights such as myself.)
Here’s what Jeff emailed:
“Phenomenon noted in picture in today’s paper first made famous when reported by survivors of the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1869 and seen by them in low clouds during their descent. Nowadays typically called a “fogbow” (for obvious reasons).
From a physics standpoint, there are two facts operating: 1) the sun is a small disc from earth, not a ‘point source’ of light, so when the distance is right, the disc is larger than a human silouhette and appears to ‘lens’ around the form, thus creating the halo effect. 2) rainbow aspect of circle of light relates to size of fog droplets refracting different wavelengths of light differently, causing them to separate out by color (the usual VIBGYOR spectrum).
Please note that prosaic scientific explanations make it no less lovely or exceptional.”
I especially agree with that last line.