Woman snaps extremely rare photo of plane in phenomenon known as ‘pilot’s glory’

  • This photo captured an extremely rare phenomenon from a plane window
  • It’s known as ‘pilot’s glory’
  • The photo makes the plane appear like it’s surrounded by a rainbow – but there is a scientific explanation

Published on Mar 21, 2024 at 3:21 PM (UTC+4)
by Amelia Jean Hershman-Jones

Last updated on Mar 21, 2024 at 8:12 PM (UTC+4)
Edited by Tom Wood

This photo taken by a plane passenger captured an extremely rare phenomenon known as ‘pilot’s glory’ and it’s unlike anything most of us have seen before.

The photo makes the plane appear like it’s surrounded by a rainbow or as if a halo is encircling an airplane’s shadow against clouds.

But, as magical as it might appear, there is a scientific explanation.

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The Reddit post, from anglovesart, had the title: “Crazy photo outside airplane today”.

The poster explained alongside the photo: “I took this first photo from the plane today, posted it to IG and a friend sent me a message that her boyfriend took the same exact photo today from a different flight.

“It is the shadow of the plane I was in surrounded by a prism, crazy!’ she captioned. It shows a photo of a plane’s shadow engulfed in a rainbow.”

And, after it was posted earlier this week, it amassed 2.1k upvotes.

It’s not the first time something fascinating has been seen from a plane window – like the flight crew member who accidentally caught a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ Falcon 9 liftoff from their seat.

Or these cockpit POVs revealing both how close planes fly and how fast they actually fly.

Commenters flocked to try and explain the science behind it.

One said: “It’s a glory.

“Something to do with high altitude and being backlit.

“Mountain peaks get them as well.”

Others expressed what a rare POV this is.

“It is a full rainbow. You never get that angle on the ground, so you only see the bow there,” said another.

It was ‘first observed by mountain climbers in the days before air travel became common’, per HowStuffWorks.

So what causes it?

In the same way we see a rainbow on the ground, it’s ’caused by the backscattering of sunlight by tiny water droplets in the atmosphere’.

“The phenomenon requires the viewer to be directly between the source of light and the water droplets, with the size and distribution of the droplets affecting the appearance of the glory,” the science site said.

“The main cause of a glory is a process called wave tunneling, where sunlight creates electromagnetic waves within a droplet, which then bounce around inside and eventually exit, forming the visible halo.”

So, now you know.


Amelia Jean Hershman-Jones

London-based Amelia cut her journalistic teeth covering all things lifestyle, wellness and luxury in the UK capital. Fast-forward a decade and the experienced content creator and editor has put pen to paper for glossy magazines, busy newsrooms and coveted brands. When her OOO is on you can find her spending quality time with her young family, in the gym or exploring the city she loves.