Friday, 27 July 2012

The World’s Rare and Natural Phenomena

1. Sailing Stones

The mysterious moving stones of the packed-mud desert of Death Valley have been a center of scientific controversy for decades. Rocks weighing up to hundreds of pounds have been known to move on the dry mud for hundreds of yards at times. Some scientists proposed that a combination of strong winds and surface ice account for these movements. However, this theory does not explain evidence of different rocks starting side by side and moving at different rates and in disparate directions. Moreover, the physics calculations do not fully support this theory as wind speeds of hundreds of miles per hour would be needed to move some of the stones.


Just recently in 2014, researchers have finally found the reason why the stones move. The rock movement occurs when very thin windowpane ice covering the dry lake bed begins to melt due to the late morning sun. The ice then breaks up under light winds and the floating ice panels push the rocks, causing them to move and leave tracks on the desert floor. Tada.

More on Here [with videos]

2. Columnar Basalt

Columnar Basalt Giants Causeway Northern Ireland

When a thick lava flow cools, it contracts vertically but cracks perpendicular to its directional flow with remarkable geometric regularity. In most cases, forming a regular grid of remarkable hexagonal extrusions which almost appear to be made by man. One of the most famous example of columnar basalt is the Giants Cause way on the coast of Ireland. Though the largest and most widely recognized would be Devils Tower in Wyoming, USA. Basalt also forms differently yet in equally fascinating ways when eruptions are exposed to air or water.

3. Blue Holes
Great Blue Hole – Belize City, Belize

Blue holes are giant and sudden drops in underwater elevation which can reach hundreds of feet deep. They get their name from the dark, foreboding blue tone they exhibit when viewed from above in relation to the surrounding waters. And while divers are able to explore some of them, they are largely devoid of oxygen to support sea life due to poor water circulation — leaving them mysteriously empty. Some blue holes, however, contain ancient fossil remains which have been discovered preserved in their depths.

I have actually seen one from close and it was in Dahab in East Sinai, Egypt.

4. Red Tides
Florida Red Tides

Also known as algal blooms, Red Tides are a sudden influxes of massive amounts of coloured single-cell algae which can convert entire areas of an ocean or beach into a blood red colour. Some of these can be relatively harmless, others can be harbingers of deadly toxins that cause the death of fish, birds, and marine mammals. In some cases, even humans have been harmed by red tides, though no human exposure are known to have been fatal. While they can be fatal, the constituent phytoplankton in red tides are not harmful in small numbers.

5. Ice Circles
A 10 ft spinning ice circle in Russia

Ice circles are formed by eddies in the water which spin a sizable piece of ice in a circular motion. As a result of this rotation, other pieces of ice and flotsam wear relatively evenly at the edges of the ice until it slowly forms into an essentially ideal circle. Ice circles have been seen with diameters of over 500 feet, and can also at times be found in clusters and groups of different sizes.

6. Mammatus Clouds
Mammatus clouds over New Jersey on 21 June 2016

True to their nebulous, perhaps also somewhat ominous, appearance, mammatus clouds are often a warning of a coming storm or other extreme weather conditions. Typically composed primarily of ice, they can extend for hundreds of miles in each direction; and individual formations can remain visibly static for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. Even though they could appear scary, they are mere messengers — appearing around, before, or even after severe weather. I have seen those in Canada once.

7. Fire Rainbows (Circumhorizontal Arc)
Circumhorizontal arc in the Nepalese Himalaya

“Fire Rainbows” is a misleading term since they are neither fire, nor rainbows. The technical name is Circumhorizontal Arc, which is an ice halo formed by hexagonal, plate-shaped ice crystals in high level cirrus clouds. The halo is so large that the arc appears parallel to the horizon, hence the name. Crystals within the clouds refract light into the various visible waves of the spectrum like a prism. 

The conditions required to form a “fire rainbow” are extremely precise – the sun has to be at an elevation of 58° or greater, there must be high altitude cirrus clouds with plate-shaped ice crystals, and sunlight has to enter the ice crystals at a specific angle. This is why it is an exceedingly rare phenomenon.

8. Sinkholes!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/gallery_1200/sinkhole-studio-city-california.jpg
 Sinkhole in Studio City, California from February 2017

Sinkholes are one of the world’s scariest natural phenomena. They can swallow homes, cars, trees and obviously, people. Over time, water erodes the soil under the planet’s surface until in some cases, quite suddenly, the land above gives way and collapses into the Earth. Many sinkholes occur naturally, while others are the result of human intervention. Displacing groundwater can open cavities as broken pipes can erode otherwise stable subterranean sediments. Urban sinkholes which are up to hundreds of feet deep have formed and consumed parts of city blocks, sidewalks, and even entire buildings.

More photos and info on this Nat Geo Article.  

9. Penitentes
Penitentes in Upper Rio Blanco, Argentine

Penitentes (Spanish for "penitent-shaped snows") are dazzling naturally-forming ice blades which stick up at sharp angles toward the sun. Rarely found except at high altitudes, they can grow up to 1.5–2 metres, or 5–7 feet, high and they form over vast fields. The name penitentes refers to the tall, pointed conical hats and hoods worn by brothers of religious orders in the Procession of Penance of the brotherhood during the Spanish Holy Week. The also look like the white hats worn by the KKK.

As ice melts in particular patterns, valleys formed by initial melts leave mountains in their wake. Strangely, these formations ultimately slow the melting process as the peaks cast shadows on the deeper surfaces below, allowing for winds to blow over the peaks and cooling them.
In actual fact, it was Charles Darwin who first described penitentes for science while he was crossing the Andes from Santiago de Chile to Mendoza in Argentina.

10. Lenticular Clouds
Lenticular Cloud over Harold's Cross Dublin Ireland on June 2015

Another sky rarity are the Lenticular clouds (Altocumulus lenticularis), which are stationary lens-shaped masses of cloud forming in the troposphere. Generally, they are formed as wind speeds up while moving around a large land object such as a mountain, normally in perpendicular alignment to the wind direction.
With a strong internal uplift, lenticular clouds can drive a motorless flyer to high elevations. Their shape is quite often mistaken for a mysterious flying object, possibly a UFO, or an artificial cover for one.

11. Light Pillars
Light Pillars over Alaska by a. Libby Photography

Light pillars appear as magical, sourceless upright luminous columns in the sky. What they really are is an atmospheric optical phenomenon in the form of a vertical column(s) of light, which appears to extend above and/or below a light source. The effect, sometimes also called the Crystal Beam Phenomenon, is created by the reflection of light from numerous tiny ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere or clouds. The light may originate from the Sun — usually when it is near or even below the horizon; and the phenomenon is then called a sun pillar or solar pillar. It could also be from the Moon or from terrestrial sources such as streetlights.

12. Sundogs
Sundog over Utah by Don Brown

Sundogs is an atmospheric phenomenon which consists of a pair of bright spots on either side on the Sun, often co-occurring with a luminous ring known as a 22° halo. Their scientific name is parhelia (singular parhelion), from the Greek parēlion, meaning “beside the sun”. Speculation is that they are called so because they follow the Sun like a dog follows its master. Sundogs are also known as Mock Suns and Phantom Suns

Like light pillars, sundogs are the product of light passing through ice crystals in the atmosphere. They typically appear as two subtly coloured patches of light to the left and right of the Sun, approximately 22° distant and at the same elevation above the horizon as the Sun.

As terminology, each of two spots appearing on either side of the Sun is a separate sun dog. Since they typically appear in pairs, it is more accurate to use the plural “sun dogs”. They can be seen anywhere in the world during any season, but they are not always obvious or bright.

Sundogs have been speculated about and discussed since ancient times; written records describing the various attributes of our sun date back to Ancient Egyptians and Greeks.

There are also Moon Dogs (paraselenae) appearing alongside the moon which are formed by lunar light passing through ice crystals. Appearing only at night, they are not seen as often as the sun ones.

Interestingly, as I was polishing this article I remembered a shot I had taken over a frozen lake in Haliburton, Ontario in 2012. I cannot tell for sure if it's a legitimate Sundog, but the double circles tell me that it is something because I have seen similar photos all over Google. Whatever it is, I love the photo and here it is.

"Let There Be Light" by Omar Cherif

13. Fire Whirls
Firenado in the Australian Outback by Chris Tangey in 2012

Fire whirls, also known as Fire Devils, Fire Tornado, Firenado, or Fire Twister, is a whirlwind caused by a fire which is often made up of flame or ash. The phenomenon appears in or around raging fires when the right combination of climactic conditions is present. They can be spawned by other natural events such as earthquakes and thunderstorms, and can be incredibly dangerous — in some cases spinning well out of the zone of the fire itself to cause devastation and death in a radius not even reached by heat or flame. Fire whirls have been known to reach a mile high, have wind speeds of over 100 miles per hour, and to last for 20 or more minutes.

14. Orange Moons

Also known as the Harvest Moon, this last phenomenon on the list may not be as rare as some of the previous ones we have reviewed; in fact, it is something most of us have seen before: a stunning big orange moon hanging low in the sky. But what causes this phenomena, and how does the moon change colour?

Well, the full moon will always look bigger when it’s near the horizon, though it’s not actually bigger. It’s totally an optical illusion. More to the story can be found on this Article.

As for the orange colour, it has nothing to do with the harvest moon. The moon — and the sun as well actually — look redder when it’s closer to the horizon. The reason for this is that compared to when the moon is directly overhead, whenever it’s near the horizon the moonlight must pass through the maximum thickness of atmosphere, which absorbs blue light and transmits red light, hence the orangish hue. 

On a parallel note, check another list of more Mesmerising Natural Wonders of the World


Mesmerising Natural Wonders of the World

The World’s Inaccessible Monasteries

The Magnificent Galapagos Islands

The full moon will always look bigger when it’s near the horizon, but it’s not actually bigger. It’s totally an optical illusion. You can test this by just holding an Aspirin at arm’s length. The Aspirin will exactly cover the moon when it’s by the horizon and it’ll do the same when you hold it up to the sky when the moon is higher up but appears smaller.
Why is it orange?
That has nothing to do with the harvest moon. The and the both look redder when they’re by the horizon. The reason for this is because we’re seeing them through the maximum thickness of atmosphere, which absorbs blue light and transmits red light.

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