Brocken spectre and glory

Brocken spectre and glory

Page Type Page Type: Album
Additional Information Image Type(s): Rock Climbing, Ice Climbing, Alpine Climbing, Aid Climbing, Hiking, Skiing, Scenery

The Brocken

A Brocken spectre, also called Brocken bow or mountain spectre is the apparently enormously magnified shadow of an observer cast, when the Sun is low, upon the upper surfaces of clouds that are below the mountain upon which he stands.

A Brocken spectre differs from the light effect named glory. A glory is an optical phenomenon produced by light backscattered (a combination of diffraction, reflection and refraction) towards its source by a cloud of uniformly-sized water droplets. A glory has multiple colored rings.

The two mentioned effects often appear together. They are quite different from the light effect of halo.

Mythology and science

The rareness and strangeness of these light effects made people in previous centuries found folktales and fables connected with these effects.

In China, this phenomenon is called Buddha's light (佛光). It was often observed on cloud-shrouded high mountains, such as Huangshan Mountains and Mount Emei. Records of the phenomenon at Mount Emei date back to A.D. 63. The colorful halo always surrounds the observer's own shadow, and thus was often taken to show the observer's personal enlightenment (associated with Buddha or divinity) until modern science explained the optics behind the phenomenon.

The spectre was observed, described and named by Johann Silberschlag in 1780 at the summit of Brocken mountain in Harz region in Germany. Because the peak is above the cloud level, and the area is frequently misty, the condition of a shadow cast onto a cloud layer is relatively favored. The appearance of giant shadows that seemed to move by themselves due to the movement of the cloud layer (this movement is another part of the definition of the Brocken Spectre), and which were surrounded by optical glory halos, may have contributed to the reputation the Harz mountains hold as a refuge for witches and evil spirits. In Goethe's Faust, the Brocken is called the Blocksberg and is the site of the Witches' Sabbath on Walpurgis Night.

In Tatras mountains region there was found a fable that if one sees his own brocken spectre, he is in a danger of death. On the other hand, fable says that once you see your brocken spectre for the third time, you will never die in mountains. There is some jot of true in this fable. Due to the very rareness of this effect it is likely that you are yet a proven mounaineer if you saw your brocken spectre at least for three times. Thus it is some reasonable probability that you won't die of subjective mistake in mountains.

C. T. R. Wilson saw a glory while working as a temporary observer at the Ben Nevis weather station. Inspired by the impressive sight, he decided to build a device for creating clouds in the laboratory, so that he could make a synthetic, small-scale glory. His work led directly to the cloud chamber, a device for detecting ionizing radiation for which he and Arthur Compton received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1927.

Seeing a brocken is a special experience anytime. What does it mean to you or what are the fables connected with it in your mountain region? Feel free to contribute your photos.

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Viewing: 1-13 of 13

brade - Feb 15, 2007 3:02 pm - Voted 10/10

high time

High time to colect these in one place, good idea... I like it.

Tomas Kristofory

Tomas Kristofory - Feb 15, 2007 3:14 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: high time

Thanks that you like it, so if you have a photo od Brocken spectre, feel free to publish it here! Cheers Tomas.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Feb 16, 2007 12:20 am - Voted 10/10


Cool page-- personally, I'd change this to an article. It will probably get more notice that way, and it's interesting. I never knew about this.

Tomas Kristofory

Tomas Kristofory - Feb 16, 2007 12:52 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Interesting

Thank you for the notice, I'm getting convinced this should be an article, but in fact I copied most of the text from wikipedia and thus I cannot present it now in article with wide audience. I will try to study and thus change the state of affairs and present this topic in more "my" text. Thanks for a note and a vote once again! Cheers Tomas.


munroitis - May 23, 2007 5:02 pm - Voted 10/10

Further contributions.

I have others somewhere. I'll see if I can dig out a couple of shots.

Tomas Kristofory

Tomas Kristofory - May 24, 2007 6:20 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Further contributions.

I guess you've got pretty enough possibilities to take a shot of brocken spectre in mountains of the British isles due to the its usual foggy weather. I'm looking forward to see some of your more contributions!

Cheers Tomas


munroitis - May 24, 2007 4:19 pm - Voted 10/10

They have their advantages

Yep, the odd Brocken Spectre is a welcome sight, however we have plenty of rain, mist, fog, wind, hail and many other climatic conditions. It makes for interesting hiking and climbing.

Thanks for your votes.



dalton1 - Jun 18, 2007 5:12 pm - Voted 10/10


Great idea, great photos, great page, great nature! It's great Tomas as usual! :)

Tomas Kristofory

Tomas Kristofory - Jun 18, 2007 8:28 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great!

Thank you Martin. But it is something more to be incorporated into the text, as other SP members stated. Do you want to write some part of this text? I may give you editing rights if you want...

Cheers Tomas.


Corax - Apr 18, 2008 11:09 am - Voted 10/10


I usually don't look very often at albums as most of them aren't that good. This one is an exception. A very nice collection of photos on an unusual subject and an interesting introduction.

Tomas Kristofory

Tomas Kristofory - Apr 18, 2008 11:49 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Albums

Thanks Corax for appreciation. Greets, Tomas.

Gangolf Haub

Gangolf Haub - Oct 10, 2008 7:51 am - Voted 10/10

Interesting album

And I was researching for the effect in google :o( I should have started here...

AjaxHiker - Feb 24, 2010 5:22 pm - Hasn't voted

Thanks for this...

I have seen my Brocken spectre only once, in the mountains of northern California during a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2003. It was a real spiritual experience, thanks for bringing back fond memories.

Viewing: 1-13 of 13