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Light enthusiasts descend on MSU campus to talk optical wonders


Scientists from around the world have gathered in southern Montana this week to talk rainbows, halos and glories.

The ninth annual International Meeting on Light and Color in Nature has drawn about 45 astronomers, meteorologists and other scientists to the Montana State University campus to discuss nature’s light shows and special effects.

“This isn’t science that has the objective of creating a new company. It’s not even science designed to create new technology. It’s really pure science, just for the sake of curiosity, just to understand the natural world,” said Joe Shaw, director of MSU’s Optical Technology Center and an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

At the same time, Shaw said, everything the scientists learn has the potential for practical use. At the conference, scientists will share papers on optical phenomena ranging from snowflake design and the effect of light on spider webs to eclipses and ghostly fog rainbows.

Talks are scheduled on the color of smoke clouds from brush fires, halos around the sun and moon and attempts to see the curve of the Earth.

They will also discuss glories, sets of colored rings that are centered around the shadow or point directly opposite the sun. They can often be seen from airplane windows, a ring of light around the plane’s shadow.

Many of the scientists attending the conference are also amateur photographers. Shaw has taken photos of the northern lights, or aurora borealis, in the sky above Bozeman. The northern lights can appear anytime the sky is dark enough and the sun has shot out charged particles that hit gas in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The conference was started in 1978 by astronomer David Lynch and has been held every three or four years since.

Other countries represented at this week’s conference include Canada, Finland, Denmark, Germany, England, Switzerland and Spain. The last meeting was held in Germany in 2004.

Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle,

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