20 Incredible Crepuscular Rays


Black Mountain Tower, CanberraPhoto:
Crepuscular rays over Black Mountain Tower in Canberra:
Image: Fir0002

Have you ever witnessed rays of sunlight seemingly radiating from a single point in the sky? In the forest maybe, in a church or through cloud cover over the sea? Called crepuscular rays, these columns of sunlit air streaming through gaps in clouds, branches or buildings create stunning displays of light and shadow. We’ve found 20 images that absolutely took our breath away.

Sunbeams at Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park
Mammoth Hot SpringsPhoto:
Image: Mila Zinkova

Apart from a source throwing a shadow, crepuscular rays need the aid of particles to reflect off to be visible, for example dust particles, snow, fog or water droplets.

Crepuscular rays at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco:
At Golden Gate State ParkPhoto:
Image: Mila Zinkova

Beam me up, Scotty:
Sunbeams over the seaPhoto:
Image: Les Chatfield

The hours around dusk and dawn are called the crepuscular hours (literally: relating to twilight) and have given this light phenomenon its name. Dusk and dawn is the time of the rays’ most frequent occurrences when the contrast between light and dark is the most obvious.

Through the clouds and over the ocean:
Over the seaPhoto:
Image: Mila Zinkova

A classic display over a parking lot in Maryland City:
Maryland CityPhoto:
Image: Andrew Bossi

Crepuscular rays actually do not radiate from one point but are near parallel. Similar to railway tracks disappearing into the distance, they seem to diverge because of the distance and perspective they are viewed at.

Over Whakatane, New Zealand:
Whatkane, NZPhoto:
Image: Adam Burtt

Heavenly spotlight, anyone?
Heavenly spotlightPhoto:
Image: Mila Zinkova

They occur when objects such as mountain peaks, clouds, trees or tall buildings partially shadow the sun’s rays and separate sunlit areas and darker, cloud-shaded ones.

Spectacular sunbeam display on the beach:
Over the beachPhoto:
Image: Mila Zinkova

The phenomenon has been observed by the earliest human settlers and all over the world – reason why the ancient Greeks incorporated an image of “the sun drawing water” into their belief system as much as the Maori had a tale of the “ropes of Maui”.

A German forest bathed in crepuscular rays that seem straight out of a fairy tale:
Image: Andreas Tille

… and another fairy tale forestscape:
Image: Mila Zinkova

A majestic tree looking even more so – Patrick’s Point State Park, CA:
Image: Lee Coursey

Architects of churches, temples and other religious buildings knew how to use the crepuscular ray effect most effectively.

Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City:
St. PeterPhoto:
Image: Jraytram

No artificial lighting here – Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Israel:
Church of the NativityPhoto:
Image: James Emery

Right onto the pulpit – at Milan’s Cathedral:
Milan CathedralPhoto:
Image: Jason Parrish

Crepuscular rays are colloquially known as a Jacob’s Ladder, Gateways to Heaven, Buddha’s Fingers, Jesus Beams, God’s Rays, sunbeams, cloud breaks and many other names. It is not surprising that many of the names have religious connotations as crepuscular rays seem to be a message from the gods. The next image, for example, could be taken straight from a religious treaty:

And thus spoke the Lord…
Image: Piccolo Namek

Pale, pinkish or reddish crepuscular rays that seem to radiate from below the horizon are often mistaken for light pillars, a phenomenon we have described earlier here on EG.

Crepuscular rays with high contrast:
High contrastPhoto:
Image: Spiralz

Like a golden curtain:
Like a golden curtainPhoto:
Image: Lee Coursey

Antarctic sunset:
Antarctic sunsetPhoto:
Image: Dave Mobley, NOAA

The last pic should clear up any questions about sunbeams or crepuscular rays: sunlight + obstruction + scattering object = crepuscular rays. Simple yet effective.

Don’t miss the lawn sprinkler at the bottom right:
Classic sunbeamsPhoto:
Image: S. Parker

Sources: 1, 2, 3

We’ll even throw in a free album.