What is This Atmospheric Phenomenon?

Today I flew to Toronto for a speaking gig. I had this awesomely spacious window seat in the exit row. I was looking out the window as we descended into a bank of what the pilot called ‘medium-low cloud’, and spotted this odd, multi-hued circle in the distance. I wondered if it was just a deformity in the window, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t:

Odd Atmospheric Phenomenon

It looks like a rainbow’s cousin (here’s another, very similar view). Does anybody know what it’s called?


  1. Looks like the sun was right behind you, and you were seeing a “glory.” The plane’s shadow would actually be in the middle of it, if you could see it. Mountain climbers sometimes encounter it too:

    “A glory, pilot’s bow, or Brocken bow is now a very common site for anyone who flies over a uniform cloud deck with sunny skies above. [A] glory consists of colored rings centered on the anti-solar point usually within 10°. Mountain climbers were probably the first to see this feature with their shadows in the center and glorious colored rings surrounding their heads. Such spectacles are called Brocken spectre. The rings are produced by light that has traversed the periphery of cloud droplets and scattered back to the eye.”

  2. The question, of course, is why did I know this off the top of my head, when it would be much better for me to remember things that I actually need to know in my daily life?


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