Monday, 24 October 2011

10 weird natural phenomena

Asperatus clouds are so rare they managed to escape classification until 2009. Ominous and stormy as they appear, these clouds often break up rather quickly, without producing a storm. As with most other undulating cloud types, these clouds are formed when turbulent winds or colliding air masses whip up the bottoms of the cloud layer into fancy shapes and formations. More common in the plains of the United States (try Iowa), asperatus clouds are at their weird and swirly best during the morning or midday hours after a thunderstorm. Photo: B.J. Bumgarner

When conditions are just right, ocean phytoplankton reproduce like bunnies, creating a thick, visible layer near the surface. These algae blooms (a.k.a "red tide") might look disgusting during the day, but in parts of California and other places where the bioluminescent variety of Noctiluca scintillans bloom, red tide nights look out of this world. This particular variety of phytoplankton glows blue when agitated, transforming the dark ocean into a giant lava lamp. Watch the waves light up as they crash, run across the sand to see the ground glow under your feet, or dive in to be surrounded by the bizarre Timex-y glow. N. scintillans is also the culprit behind the Bioluminescent Bays in Puerto Rico. Photo: catalano82

To read more about bioluminescent please go to, where lights are made through chemical reactions in living things.

Still a relatively mysterious occurrence, the Catatumbo lighting in Venezuela is known as the everlasting storm. The seemingly non-stop cloud-to-cloud lightning can be easily seen from a distance, and has long been celebrated for its ability to assist sailors with navigation. Since the Catatumbo lighting does its thing approximately 140-160 nights per year, your chances of viewing it are quite good. It occurs very specifically in one area -- the mouth of the Catatumbo River and around Maracaibo Lake. Photo: Thechemicanengineer

Video of Catatumbo Lightning phenomenon in Venezuela 

A natural volcanic formation, columnar basalt has a seemingly man-made appearance. The (mostly) hexagonal columns form naturally as thick lava rapidly cools, contracting and creating cracks in the surface of the new rock. These unusual geological formations can be seen across the globe. Two of the most notable examples include the Giant's Causeway in Ireland, and Devil's Postpile in California (pictured above). Photo: dwolfgra

If there were any atmospheric phenomenon that could bring a grown man to tears, it's this one. So, "WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!?!?!?" Well, it means pretty much the same thing as a regular rainbow. Only, on occasion, sunlight reflects in a raindrop not once, but twice, creating a secondary rainbow outside of the much brighter primary arc. The best views of this phenomenon occur when the sky is still dark with rainclouds, as the gray background helps the much dimmer colors of the secondary arc appear. Double rainbow, all the way! Photo:Tim Kelley

Another resource found in rainbow we normally see is called the primary rainbow and is produced by one internal reflection; the secondary rainbow arises from two internal reflections and the rays exit the drop at an angle of 50 degrees° rather than the 42°degrees for the red primary bow. Blue light emerges at an even larger angle of 53 degrees°. his effect produces a secondary rainbow that has its colors reversed compared to the primary, as illustrated in the drawing, adapted from the Science Universe SeriesSight, Light, and Color.

Another summertime occurrence, fire rainbows appear when sunlight hits frozen ice crystals in high-altitude cirrus clouds. Because the fire rainbow actually involves no rain at all, scientists would rather we refer to this occurrence by its much less fun, but much more accurate title: the circumhorizonal arc. Since the arc requires both the presence of cirrus clouds and for the sun to be extremely high in the sky, it's much more likely to be seen at latitudes closer to the equator. Conditions might be right for a fire rainbow in Los Angeles six months out of the year, but in a more northern city like London, that window drops to a mere two months. The photo above was taken in West Virginia. Photo: Jeff Kubina


Known as the Moeraki Boulders, these spherical stones have been naturally excavating themselves one by one from their mudstone beds on the New Zealand coast. Erosion uncovers these giants, but it isn't responsible for their spherical shape. Instead, these boulders are said to have been created millions of years ago on the ocean floor in a process similar to the formation of oyster pearls -- layers of sediment and material crystallizing around a central core. Over the course of millions of years, they grew to the immense sizes seen today. The boulders can be found on Koekohe Beach, New Zealand. Photo: Geof Wilson

Waves apparently aren't restricted to large bodies of water or the stands at sporting events -- they can happen, albeit rarely, in the sky as well. When air is pushed up into a more stable layer of atmosphere, it can cause a ripple effect, just like tossing a rock into a pond. For a gravity wave to occur, there must be a disturbance in the atmosphere, such as an updraft of a thunderstorm. Recent studies indicate that gravity waves have the power to concentrate and intensify tornados, so if you're lucky (or unlucky) enough to view the undulating cloud formations firsthand, I'd suggest seeking shelter soon after! Iowa would be a good place to start the hunt. Photo: NASA

So What is a Gravitational Wave?

Most scientists describe gravitational waves as "ripples in space-time." Just like a boat sailing through the ocean produces waves in the water, moving masses like stars or black holes produce gravitational waves in the fabric of space-time. A more massive moving object will produce more powerful waves, and objects that move very quickly will produce more waves over a certain time period. (Read more)

When the sun is near the horizon and ice crystals are present in the air, look up to see a pair of bright spots sitting on either side of the sun. Always to the right and the left along the horizon line, these dogs loyally follow the sun across the sky. While this atmospheric phenomenon can occur whenever, wherever, the effect is usually quite subtle. When sunlight passes through cirrus clouds (or other types of ice clouds) at just the right angle, however, these spots can appear as bright as the sun itself. The brightest occur when the sun is low in the sky in colder regions. This photo shows a sun dog at the South Pole. Photo: Lt. Cindy McFee

A sundog is an optical phenomenon that is sometimes observed in the sky when sunlight interacts with ice clouds or particles in the atmosphere.  A more complete explanation is found here. The above photograph of sundogs over Greenland (the bright spots left and right of the sun) was kindly provided by Jay Johnson, Physical Sciences Lab, University of Wisconsin-Madison. (read more)

A moondog is the same as a sundog, only caused by the moon. Before the Beatles chose the name for which they became famous, they briefly toyed with calling themselves Johnny and the Moondogs. The Sundogs therefore have yet another thing in common with the Beatles besides the facts that there's four of them, they're male, and they play a lot of Beatles tunes. (read more)

Icebergs aren't exclusively monotone. A few nonconformists come in various colored stripes, standing out against arctic whites and blues. As water melts and refreezes on an iceberg over time, dirt and other particles can become trapped between new layers of ice, creating multicolored stripes across its surface. A variety of colors can appear. Blue stripes occur when water gets trapped between layers of ice and freezes so quickly that air bubbles cannot form. Once icebergs break off and fall into the ocean, algae or other materials present in the water can create green or yellow stripes. Up your chances of viewing striped bergs by heading south to Antarctica. Photo: Jeff McNeillMore about striped iceberg click here

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