A mysterious city in the clouds showed up over Foshan in the Guangdong province and the Jiangxi province in China this weekend, and everyone pretty much freaked out. While it is fun to speculate about mystical cities, the mirage was chalked up to a Fata Morgana, with physics winning out instead of magic once again.
Things can get pretty weird on this big blue planet, and that cloudy castle is just the tip of the iceberg of phenomena. Take a look at these other crazy natural occurrences and be filled with awe (or terror).
Dirty thunderstorms are pretty rare, but they are no less incredible. They occur when lightning occurs in a volcanic cloud, and the most famous happened in Chile above the Chaiten Volcano. According to National Geographic, “The little-understood storms may be sparked when rock fragments, ash, and ice particles in the plume collide to produce static charges just as ice particles collide to create charge in regular thunderstorms.”
Regardless of what causes them, these dirty thunderstorms look like something out of Dante’s Inferno. Speaking of which…
The Door To Hell
I guess Sunnydale isn’t the only place with a Hellmouth.
In 1971, the Soviets accidentally set a gas crater in the Karakum Desert of Turkmenistan on fire, and it has continued to burn steadily ever since, earning the ominous name “The Door To Hell.” It maintains a temperature of over 1,000 degrees Celsius and basically is the closest thing to the pits of hell that can be found on earth. Oh, and this year, an explorer named George Kourounis decided to be the first person to plumb the depths of this crater, wearing a fire retardant suit and a breathing apparatus.
Flammable Frozen Bubbles
Global warming and the proper usage of natural resources is a hotbed of political strife, but sometimes it would do well to just take a step back and be in awe. For example, in Lake Abraham, located in Alberta, Canada, there are stunning frozen bubbles trapped beneath the surface of the lake. However, while these bubbles look beautiful, they are actually quite dangerous. The bubbles are in fact made of methane, so don’t light a match near the surface of the lake. The Smithsonian reports that global warming is to blame for these emissions:
“Methane is formed in thousands of lakes around the arctic, but decreasing permafrost means more and more of this methane is being released into the atmosphere, a worrying trend for climate scientists who note that methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”
Whatever the cause, it is undeniable that these weird bubbles are as beautiful as they are dangerous.
Wagga Wagga Spider Infestation
Imagine that you’ve just had to deal with devastating floods. Clean up and repairs are a nightmare, but think of your eight legged friends. In the Australian town of Wagga Wagga, a flood had unexpected and weird consequences. In order to escape the rising waters, the wolf spiders in the area banded together to make a super web, moving up into the trees and bushes seeking higher ground. In order to flee dangerous circumstances, spiders do a thing called “ballooning,” where they basically shoot out silk strands and float to safety. In situations like this flood, they end up all in one place. Basically, it looked like everything was covered in the grossest and creepiest cotton candy of all time.
Namibian Fairy Circles
All over the Namib Desert, strange circles of brush have popped up, and have come to be known as “fairy circles.” As with any strange occurrence, alien claims are bandied about, but scientists are exploring more natural reasons, like competition between plants over water supply, termites, or even animal grazing patterns. No matter how they get there, these circles are truly incredible.
Sure, it looks incredible, but it can really all be chalked up to plankton. In the Vaadhoo Island in the Maldives, stunning waves of blue bioluminescence are hallmarks of the island, making it look like you’re surfing on a sea of stars. However, the light is caused by phytoplankton washing ashore. Many types of plankton emit a bioluminescent energy, and when they’re washed to shore, their chemical make-up is converted into the beautiful light that has become a favorite of vacationers and photographers alike.
Someone call Mulder and Scully. While conspiracy theorists like to take light pillars as proof of alien activity (of course), National Geographic takes a more realistic stance:
“Light pillars appear when artificial light or natural light bounces off the facets of flat ice crystals wafting relatively close to the ground. When the light source is close to the ground, the light pillar appears above the floating crystals. When the light comes from the sun or moon, the light pillar can appear beneath them, too, as the light refracts through the crystals.”
It may not be the sexiest explanation, but that doesn’t diminish the coolness of nature’s light show.
Mount Erebus, an active volcano in Antarctica, is the southernmost volcano on Earth, but that isn’t the coolest thing about it. Due to the conflict between the frozen landscape and the molten activity beneath the surface, giant snow chimneys known as ice fumaroles form around the vents where the gases escape from the surface. These geological wonders can grow up to two stories high, as if a volcano in the frozen wasteland of Antarctica wasn’t strange enough.