Novaya Zemlya Effect

December 04, 2023

Image (24)

Image (25)

Photographer: Mila Zinkova    

Summary Author: Mila Zinkova

Featured above is a sunset mirage sequence that shows the elusive and breathtaking Novaya Zemlya effect – a rectangle of golden stripes hovering on the horizon. It was observed on the Pacific Ocean, just west of San Francisco. The optics involving mirages can be quite complex and explaining the Novaya Zemlya effect is indeed challenging, and involves atmospheric ducting, zones where sunlight is severely bent by atmospheric refraction.

As discussed by atmospheric optics and mirage expert, Dr. Andy Young, “Because rays that are trapped in a duct  cannot leave the Earth's atmosphere, an observer within the duct cannot see the Sun or other astronomical  objects in a zone of the sky containing the ducted rays that is centered on the astronomical horizon.” So, while astronomical objects aren’t seen inside the ducts, mirages of terrestrial objects can be seen.

The Novaya Zemla results from abnormal atmospheric refraction where temperature gradients near the surface (most often, the surface of the sea) are particularly large. One ingredient necessary for this effect to be seen is a temperature inversion – a layer of cold air lying below a layer of warmer air.

The first image above reveals the miraged sea surface in the duct below the Sun’s position. As the sunset progressed, the rays of the miraged Sun eventually found a leak in the duct and penetrated it, resulting in the Novaya Zemlya effect mirage (the second image). This video shows the sequence of this phenomenal sunset.


 Related Links:

Two Types of Bewildering Sunset Mirages