Fata Morgana of Point Reyes National Seashore

April 15, 2012


: Mila Zinkova
Summary Author: Mila Zinkova 

Can you imagine a distant land that never looks quite the same? Notice the background scene on the two photos above. Both pictures were photographed from the same place, a beach near San Francisco, California, with a view toward the northwest. I used the same camera and the same 300 mm zoom lens. The only difference is that the top photo was taken on November 17, 2011 and the bottom photo on November 2, 2011. The distant mountains are part of Point Reyes National Seashore. How could the distant land change so drastically in 15 days? On the November 2 photo, the appearance of Point Reyes National Seashore was altered by a superior mirage -- Fata Morgana. Zzz

This playful lady, the Fairy Morgana, seldom visits the coasts near San Francisco -- only 2-3 times per year. But her guest appearance dramatically changes distant objects near the ocean/air boundary, so much so that they’re hard to recognize. Fata Morgana displays are always far away but aren’t always easy to detect. However, this display (on November 2) was almost impossible not to notice. I heard a person nearby me ask "What’s that over there?" pointing to the strange looking formation on the horizon. It looked like a castle in the air; but a castle that kept changing its appearance every few seconds. Welcome to the land of the Fata Morgana. See also today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day. 

It was 100 years ago today that the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sunk in the North Atlantic Ocean on her maiden voyage. More than 1,500 people perished. A new theory suggests that mirages could have played a role in the sinking.