Way at the western tip of Honshu, the main island of Japan, you’ll find the town of Shimonoseki. Shimonoseki is especially famous for its always delicious, naturally poisonous, and occasionally canned blowfish, but fishermen catch all manner of tasty seafood there in the waters off the edge of Yamaguchi Prefecture.
Wherever you have boats and coastlines, you’ll also want to put a lighthouse too. But on a recent night the beacon of Shimonoseki’s Tsunoshima lighthouse wasn’t the only thing shining in the darkness, as observers also roughly a dozen mysterious-looking lights in the night sky.
As always in situations like this, the most logical explanation is extraterrestrials. But while rural Shimonoseki would make an ideal invasion point for hipster aliens who feel that attacking Tokyo has been done so often in anime as to be played out but not quite so often that they can yet do it ironically, the real impetus for these lights isn’t to be found in space, but in the sea.
Remember those Shimonoseki fish we talked about? Some of them are more active at night, but are still drawn to light. Many fishermen attach lights to their boats, called isaribi in Japanese, to attract a larger catch.
▼ Isaribi in Hokkaido
Sometimes, the overnight temperatures drop down low enough that ice crystals form in the air high above the ships. When the conditions are just right to produce large enough crystals but no precipitation, the light from their boats reflects off the crystals and shines brightly enough to be seen from shore, a phenomenon called isaribi kouchu, literally “fish-attracting light pillars.”
The photographer behind this beautiful picture, who goes by Serilery on his blog, snapped the photo in Shimonoseki last Friday at about 1 a.m. In speaking with the lighthouse staff about the ethereal scenery, he learned that he’d had perfect timing, as the phenomenon is rare enough that it happens at the location only about once a year, if even that frequently.
You can check out more of Serilery’s amazing photography here. We have to admit, though, that while it’s always nice to be reminded of how awesome nature can be, we’re just a little bit sad the lights weren’t caused by luminous puffer fish swallowing a tank of helium and rising up into the sky.