Glory – An Optical Meteorological Phenomenon

All photos Brocken Inaglory CC-BY-SA, except as noted

All photos Brocken Inaglory CC-BY-SA, except as noted

Cloud of the Day – Glory

Glory is an optical phenomenon which has become much more commonly observed since the rise of widespread flight.


Glory is seen in clouds or mist when the Sun (or rarely the Moon) is directly behind the observer.

AndiW - Public Domain

AndiW – Public Domain

The observer must be higher than the clouds or mist because, since the Sun (or Moon) is above the horizon, the glory must be below the opposite horizon.


Glory is most commonly observed from a high vantage point, like a mountain, a bridge, a tall building or an aircraft.

Brocken Inaglory - Public Domain

Brocken Inaglory – Public Domain

In some cases the glory will surround the shadow of the aircraft.

Reeftraveler - CC-BY-SA

Reeftraveler – CC-BY-SA

When the glory surrounds the dramatically large shadow of the observer, when standing on a mountain top, say, it is called a Brocken spectre, named for a German mountain renowned for the effect.


No one has yet devised a generally accepted theory for the formation of glories. The rings are all centered on the observer’s eyes, so they’re obviously dependent on the observer’s position. And they’re obviously optical, resulting from one or more of the reflection, refraction, interference, and tunneling of light. It’s not nailed down yet, though.


Tap the photos for large originals.


About arjaybe

Jim has fought forest fires and controlled traffic in the air and on the sea. Now he writes stories.
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2 Responses to Glory – An Optical Meteorological Phenomenon

  1. Laird Smith says:

    I’ve seen this while on a flight, don’t remember which direction we were going but it was a thrilling sight to see the shadow of the plane in the small circle on the cloud below us!

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