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flame pillar
One of two nearly identical pictures taken by James BENTON during a visit to the George Observatory at Brazos Bend State Park near Houston, Texas. The picture was taken at 8:12 pm on March 29, 2003.

In an e-mail to CAELESTIA, Mr. BENTON explained that the camera he had used was new to him and that he didn't manage to get it to focus very well. The four reflections in the center of the picture (there is fifth specimen close to the left edge of the frame) appeared in the southeast at about 8:05 pm. Some 30 minutes before, Mr. BENTON had already spotted two similar reflections in the southwest (the latter were probably caused by a Phillips refinery that is located in that direction).

The light sources responsible for the reflections in the picture were almost certainly combustion flames at Texas Operations, Dow Chemical's largest manufacturing site in the world. The Texas Operations refineries are located at Freeport, about 62 km (38.5 miles) southeast of the George Observatory. If this was indeed the location of the light sources, the altitude of the reflective layer should have been close to 7.2 km (23,622 feet). By 8:20 pm the lights started to fade gradually. They were completely gone by 8:45 pm.

According to Mr. BENTON there were "some clouds that night and the air was a little damp and cool".

The camera used was a digital Canon EOS D60 with zoom set at 154 mm. Time exposure was 15 seconds with aperture set at f/3.5.

[© James BENTON - photo used with permission (more pictures by James BENTON can be viewed at]