20 of the Most Surreal Natural Phenomena—Explained
Why “shooting star” is a misnomer, what a moonbow is, and more strange natural phenomena.
Much like rainbows, these colorful nocturnal arches occur when light (from the moon, in this case) reflects and refracts off water droplets in the sky. But moonbows are much more rare than rainbows—the natural phenomenon happens only when the moon is very low, the sky is dark, and rain is falling opposite the moon.
What Alec Baldwin describes on Frozen Planet as “icy fingers of death,” brinicles are underwater stalactites, or hollow icicles, that form when cold salt water freezes. In the right conditions, brinicles can reach and pool on the ocean floor, eventually freezing slow-moving bottom-dwelling creatures like starfish. You probably never learned these crazy facts about the earth in school.
Shooting stars are actually meteors, or small rocks that have entered the earth’s atmosphere. The light you see is the particles heating up and burning. Stargazers can expect to see a shooting star every ten to 15 minutes.
A perfect example of how a natural phenomenon can be dangerous is the Florida man who was swallowed by sinkhole under his bedroom. Sinkholes most commonly occur when water, made acidic by contact with plants or carbon dioxide in the air, erodes soft rock such as limestone, gypsum or dolomite underground, forming a deep cavern. Check out the biggest unsolved mysteries about planet earth.
Formed at the meeting of opposing currents, whirlpools are often much more ominous in fiction than in real life. The most powerful whirlpools, called maelstroms, are formed in narrow, shallow straits with fast flowing water or at the base of waterfalls, but the speed of the swirl rarely exceeds 20 mph. Don’t miss these ocean mysteries scientists still can’t explain.
Some beaches around the world glow at night. This natural phenomenon is caused by phytoplankton in the water that gives off light when agitated by the movement of waves and currents. These microorganisms can be seen at beaches in the Maldives, Puerto Rico, the Everglades, and many more around the world. Check out these fascinating facts you never knew about oceans.
Some might mistake a waterspout for a tornado moving over a body of water, but in reality, a waterspout in a type of cloud. They are rotating columns of air over water and are much weaker than tornados. They mainly occur in tropical and subtropical climates. Find out the most baffling mysteries about the universe.
Thunderstorm lightning has nothing on volcanic lightning which appears during a volcano explosion. This lightning forms in the volcanic plume—the cylinder-shaped column of volcanic ash—after it erupts, according to National Geographic. The particles that make up the plume compress underground. Once these particles eject above ground the density changes. Plus, the friction between particles charges them. They separate as they go up, creating space for electricity or lightning to flow between particles, per National Geographic. This natural phenomenon is likely one of the science facts you never learned in school.