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Did you see the bar codes in the sky? Monterey Bay's Crazy Labor Day Horizon

Stashed in: California

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Julia, what a wonderful explanation!

The optical phenomenon over Monterey Bay this weekend was a superior mirage with multiple vertically stacked mirror images. According to Peter Weiss, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, here is what was happening with the local weather. “Usually, the air at the ocean surface is cooled by the ocean creating a layer of cool about a thousand or two feet thick. Over the weekend, the air above this layer was warmer than normal because it was compressed by a very large and strong high pressure system, causing already warm air to sink and heat more than usual. This meant the cold marine air got very compressed at the surface instead of mixing upward.” Thus, there was an unusually steep temperature gradient very close to the ocean/land surface. The refraction of light in these temperature stratified layers caused the strong and complicated mirage.

Strong and complex superior mirages are often called Fata Morganas. That name derives from Morgan le Fay, the generally-evil, shapeshifting, half-sister of King Arthur. Below is a time series of a Fata Morgana over the Farallon Islands, California. The last two frames were photographed a few hours after the first frames, around sunset. The mirage in these two frames is not as complex as the others because the temperature differential has decreased. The air is getting cooler, while the ocean might be a little bit warmer after a hot day.

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