An unusual photograph taken during an elk hunting trip has managed to cause confusion and intrigue for the family of Scott Vierck, who captured the image of a strange “apparition” with his cellphone camera.

Vierck describes the object as a shadow with an orb around it, “mainly golden… [with] maybe a few rainbow colors, but mainly a bright golden color.” Admittedly, the incident left him perplexed, and within a short time, Vierck’s photo managed to garner the attention of Scott Sandsberry, a writer for the Nisqually Valley Newsafter one of Vierck’s family members mentioned the photo.

Some have guessed that perhaps the image is actually that of an angel, or as his wife suggests, “the spirit of someone who had died in his family, perhaps the grandfather who had taught him to hunt and fish and had cut timber in that same area.” So what is the strange, seemingly anomalous sphere in the photograph?

Scott Sandsberry

Image by Scott Vierck. Credit: Nisqually Valley News, Scott Sandsberry.

Within the story, there is a clue which gives away the source of the mysterious apparition, which involves the direction Vierck had been facing at the time, as indicated in the excerpt below:

“He parked his rig and was walking a clearing between a pair of ridges, “glassing” for elk through his binoculars, just as the sun began to peak over the high crests into the east. No longer able to glass through the glare in that direction, he turned the other way — and saw what appeared to be a glowing globe of light, apparently reflecting off the valley fog, with a shadowy figure in the middle of it.”

So what was the shadowy figure?

Obviously, as we know, it was Vierck’s shadow, which he too acknowledges… the odd part of the experience had been the rainbow of light formed around him, which Vierck said would follow his outline no matter how he moved. While this certainly led to a rather strange looking photo, there is, in fact, a very simple explanation for how it happened, although the conditions must be just right in order for it to occur.

Vierck, who had his back to the sun, was experiencing what is called a Brocken spectre, also sometimes referred to as a “mountain spectre” or Brocken bow. The phenomenon has been reported often from mountaintops and other high altitude vantages, which even include planes in flight, where one’s shadow is projected onto mist at a lower altitude, where tiny airborne water droplets then reflect that sunlight back at the observer, forming a halo of colored light surrounding the ghostly shadow. The confusing depth distortion that occurs can also give the impression that the shadow is much larger, further lending to the eerie appearance of the phenomenon.

The name “Brocken spectre” comes from a mountain in the Harz range of Germany, known simply as “The Brocken,” where an entire local mythology surrounds the strange appearances of the so-called “spectre.” One of the earliest recorded references to the apparition was described by Johann Siberschlag in 1780; the phenomenon was also featured in Camille Flammarion’s 1873, L’atmosphère, description des grands phénomènes de la nature (see below):


Wikipedia has an entire gallery of images depicting various Brocken spectres, which can be viewed here. Below is one of the better images of a Brocken spectre that is similar to Vierck’s photograph, taken by Nigel Homer and featured here courtesy of Wikimedia Commons:



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