Ask Ellen: What’s that purple glow in the sky?

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Viewers from across West Michigan reported seeing a strong purple glow in the sky near the Grand Rapids area Monday night, but it isn’t the Northern Lights. 

This picture was taken at 6:25 p.m. in Byron Center by Jennifer Adams. You can clearly see the glow.

A quick check of the current northern hemisphere auroral activity shows very low activity for the U.S., so the glow is not the Northern Lights.

Even if it were an active aurora night, it’s way too cloudy for us to see it.

Instead, it is highly likely something on the ground is illuminating the sky from below!

The most likely theory I’ve seen so far is that the purple color is from high-efficiency grow lights from local greenhouses. One person on Facebook posted a photo of a greenhouse on 76th Street SE near Hanna Lake Avenue in Dutton with bright purple lights that could be the source. 

The glow has also been spotted elsewhere in the Midwest, including Ohio and Wisconsin. A Portage woman in Wisconsin sent us these pictures from the weekend:

I’ve seen this effect before on a windy day in late autumn when we had a very low canopy of clouds. As the wind snapped power lines, it created instantaneous flashes in orange, green, pink, and blue that were illuminated in the clouds.

Ice crystals often do crazy optical things for us in the atmosphere, like sun dogs or ice pillars. Clouds this low on this cold of a day may just be composed of ice crystals that are just the right size and shape to help project the purple illumination “through” the cloud. 

The glow must be caused by something on the ground that is bright, and unmoving, which means it could be back anytime we get a cloudy night like this.

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