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July 2006

July 2006

Photographed from Grisedale Pike, Cumbria, UK © Dave Newton

“Boo, Man”

When cloudspotting mountaineers and hill walkers are out on the Brocken mountain, a peak in the Herz range of Northern Germany, they often find themselves climbing through a bank of stratus cloud to emerge into the sunlight above. At this point, they can sometimes come face to face with a ‘Brocken Spectre’. This fantastical apparition looks like a ghost from the sixties, for it is surrounded by rainbow colours and has very flared trousers.

A Brocken Spectre, like that in the photograph above, is not in fact a flower-power ghost at all. Nor is it the result of an LSD flashback. It is merely an optical effect that appears when sunlight, coming from directly behind the cloudspotter, falls onto a layer of cloud droplets. This situation tends to occur only on elevated ground, since the cloudspotter needs to be looking down onto the cloud layer, for the Sun to be shining from directly behind him, along his line of vision. The cloudspotter’s shadow, hugely distorted by the effects of perspective, appears in the middle of a halo of colours, which are officially known as a ‘glory’. This optical effect is still only partially understood.

Of course, cloudspotters don’t have to climb the Brocken to see a Brocken Spectre – any mountain can serve the purpose. Nor is the sight of this psychadelic ghost only available to cloudspotters energetic enough to go mountain climbing. Sometimes, the coloured rings of a glory can also be seen around an aeroplane’s shadow, cast onto the cloud layer below. Is this light effect known as a ‘Boeing Spectre’? No, of course it’s not.

  • Mrs Angela Hull

    October 6, 2012at5:31 pm

    My daughter has just sent me an email photograph of my Grandson, surrounded by a Brocken Spectre on Snowdon today, October 6th.
    He was doing with others a Marie Curie charity climb of Snowdon.
    Next June he is climbing Mont Blanc, in memory of his Grandfather, and has so far raised £750 in sponsorship towards the £3,000 in total he needs before the June deadline.
    The spectre must have been a very moving experience, and I like to think that `Gramps` was looking down on him, and supporting him in this climb, but more importantly in the very significant challenge that lies ahead next June, raising money for a cause so dear to his heart. He remembers so well the loving care of one particular Marie Curie nurse.

  • Anonymous

    May 7, 2014at7:38 pm


  • Anonymous

    May 7, 2014at7:39 pm


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