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‘Beam me up, NOVA’: Monday’s high-flaring ‘light pillar’ explained

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Tara Jeffrey

Some described it as a laser-beam in the sky; others said it looked like a rocket launch above Sarnia-Lambton. However you describe it — Monday night’s view of NOVA Chemical’s Corunna flare stack caused plenty of chatter online, fascinating residents even outside the county, and across the border.

The Journal reached out to NOVA spokesperson Julia Iacovella, who, along with The Weather Network’s Chris Murphy, helped explain the phenomenon.

“When light interacts with ice crystals, magic happens,” Murphy wrote via Twitter. “This is an example of reflection. There is also “refraction” which is quite literally the bending of light. As seen in Halos around the sun or moon.”

NOVA’s Corunna site told residents late last week to expect increased noise and flaring as the plant is in the process of starting back up.

What’s typically known as a ‘sun pillar’ — a beam of light caused by the sun’s reflecting off the ice crystals falling through the air — can also be applied to the flare, known as a ‘light pillar.’

“More common in winter, but this recent cold spell (after the gorgeous summery weather!) shows that this can happen in spring too,” Murphy wrote.

According to the Port Huron Times Herald, Monday night’s flaring was reported across the area north of Port Huron and as far south as Algonac.

Iacovella added that flaring – the burning of excess hydrocarbon gases that cannot be recovered or recycled – can occur during start-up and shut-down of facilities for planned maintenance, and also during unplanned operational interruptions.

“We know that flaring may cause disruptions for our neighbours and community, particularly as it relates to noise, vibration, and flame glow.

“When you see flaring, please be assured that flares play a key role in keeping our facilities running safely.”

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