Meanwhile, residents of Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, sat back and chuckled at the weather-based hijinks of their urban cousins in the capital. After all, this sort of thing is no big deal in Japan’s coldest prefecture. It takes something really special to make people in Hokkaido stop and take notice of the snow. Something like an angelically beautiful pillar of light.
The video comes to us from Shinji Kawamura, who’s making a name for himself with work that features Hokkaido’s natural scenery and wildlife. Kawamura doesn’t limit himself to the plants growing from the solid or the creatures that red upon it, however, as in his latest video he points his camera at the skies.
The phenomenon is known as a sun pillar, and while it may look like a bit of divine intervention or one of those spots in a video game that automatically refills your character’s life bar or transport you out of a dungeon, there’s a perfectly scientific explanation behind what’s going on.
As the temperature drops, hexagonal ice crystals form from moisture in the air. On windy days the gusts disrupt the crystals as they fall, but when the winds are calm, the crystals’ shape situates them parallel to the ground as they drift to earth.
The amassed horizontal crystals act as a reflector, and if the sun peeks out of one spot in an otherwise overcast sky, it brilliantly illuminates a single column of crystals, resulting in a sun pillar.
The chances of seeing a sun pillar are highest at sunrise or sunset, which are unfortunately also the coldest periods of daylight. Still, we thing having to wear an extra layer of clothing is a small price to pay for a chance to catch this ephemerally beautiful atmospheric event.