Stunning light pillars dazzle in the northern US sky

Light pillars dance across the sky in northern Michigan.
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(CNN)Like something taken straight from a sci-fi movie, strange columns of light have been spotted recently across the northern United States, dancing up toward the night sky and mesmerizing viewers.

"It was almost like I was looking at the northern lights because they were bouncing, moving and changing in appearance," National Weather Service Meteorologist Bill Taylor told CNN when describing the photos of light pillars he took early this week in North Platte, Nebraska.
Fortunately for us, this is not an alien invasion or extraterrestrial activity, but rather an optical phenomenon courtesy of a cold, calm atmosphere.
      Unless your fireplace, cozy blanket and favorite book are too inviting, you may be rewarded if you step outside and brave the elements this week. Make sure to bundle up because these spectacular colored beams of light only occur when temperatures are well below freezing.

      It has to be brutally cold and the air must be calm

      Light pillars form in colder climates when ice particles near the ground are light enough to remain suspended in the air. If conditions are calm, the hexagonally shaped ice particles can become vertically stacked as they slowly drift through the atmosphere. Like a giant mirror in the sky, the collective ice surfaces reflect a light source -- such as a street lamp, moonlight or sunlight -- toward the viewer.
      "The higher the crystals in the atmosphere, the taller the pillar," according to the National Weather Service in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
      Weather conditions need to be virtually wind-free, very stable and quite cold.
      These light pillars formed in the sky above northern Michigan late last week.