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Casting shadows show off a rare sunset

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DENVER — The shadows of giants reigned supreme Thursday night as the Centennial Mount Meeker and 14er Longs Peak beamed out breathtaking shadows during sunset.

Photo by Kathy Hill, Berthoud, CO.

Photo by Kathy Hill, Berthoud, CO.

Photo by Dick Knapp, Loveland, CO.

(Photo: Dick Knapp, Loveland)

The photos taken by photographers Kathy Hill and Dick Knapp are textbook examples.

So, why don’t we see this more often?  It’s a matter of atmospheric optics.

The sun angle has to be just right relative to the observer. Sunsets during the shoulder seasons are more likely to generate these shadows because the sun sets lower on the horizon.

That means the light is forced to shoot through more atmosphere.  That beam of light then has a better chance of intersecting high mountain peaks like Longs and Meeker.

For best viewing, you also want some mid- to high level cloud cover like Thursday night’s stratus cloud deck. That creates a canvas for the shadows.

Some of the most impressive mountain shadows over the years were cast by Mount Rainier in Washington state.