A condensation trail or contrail is relatively common. But having it glow in all colors of the rainbow is not something you’ll see every day. It’s called contrail iridescence, and Indian photographer Soumyadeep Mukherjee (previously) managed to capture this rare phenomenon in a set of magical, colorful photos. He shared them with DIYP and details about how he spotted and captured the incredible sight.
What is contrail iridescence?
As I mentioned, contrail iridescence is a rare phenomenon, as a few specific factors need to align simultaneously for the iridescent colors to be visible in contrails. It depends on the following factors:
- Optimal atmospheric conditions: The atmosphere must have just the right amount of moisture and the right temperature profile for the contrail to form ice crystals or water droplets and for those particles to be uniformly dispersed.
- Specific sun angle: The angle of the sun relative to the contrail is crucial for iridescence to be visible. The best conditions occur when the sun is low on the horizon during sunrise or sunset.
- Thin and uniform contrails: The contrail itself must be thin and evenly spread to allow sunlight to pass through and interact with the particles in the contrail effectively.
What’s more, even when it does occur, contrail iridescence is often a short-lived event. Once you spot it, you have a few minutes, or a maximum of half an hour, to observe it or take photos. Thankfully, all the conditions aligned for Soumyadeep on July 19, and he managed to take some stunning photos.
Photographing the phenomenon
It was around 5:30 in the afternoon when Soumyadeep noticed the colorful contrails. “I was actually photographing sundog (another optical phenomenon) at 150mm when I saw an aeroplane in the field of view,” Soumyadeep. told DIYP. “I quickly zoomed my lens at 600mm and was very surprised to see some colours on the contrail.”
“Given the latitude of Kolkata, India (22 degrees North), it is extremely rare to see contrail iridescence. It was on my bucket list for more than two years (since when I first heard about it), and I couldn’t believe that I captured it. The colours were faint and not visible with naked eye. Had I not zoomed in with my camera, I would have missed it completely.”
This was the image where Soumyadeep noticed the contrail and its colors to some extent, taken at 150mm. You can even see the sundog on the left!
Then he zoomed in to 600mm for a better view, and these are the photos he ended up with:
Not only I love clearing something off my artwork, photography, or life bucket list – I also enjoy seeing when others manage to do it. And in Soumyadeep’s case, it also ended up in some stunning photos. So it was really a treat for me to hear his story and see these photos, and I invite you to see more of his work on Instagram.