Fata Morgana as a Possible Source of UFO Sightings

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Metabunk 2018-05-06 18-35-22.jpg

I was on Santa Monica Pier at 1:45PM PDT, and I notice far to the north was what looked like a fata morgana - a type of mirage where objects get stretched and inverted. It was quite hard to see and I doubt many people (if any) had noticed it. I took a few photos. These have been "dehazed" in Photoshop:
Metabunk 2018-05-06 18-42-52.jpg
Metabunk 2018-05-06 18-44-05.jpg
Notice the above two images are of the same region, taken just 30 seconds apart, and yet look very different. Here's a slider comparison:
Metabunk 2018-05-06 18-48-11.jpg Metabunk 2018-05-06 18-49-58.jpg


This made me wonder if fata morgana might be responsible for occasional UFO sightings, as it could make things appear and disappear, and even seem to move. When the mirage just catches the tip of something like a tree it can make it hover in the air like a flying object. Like this:
Metabunk 2018-05-06 18-57-54.jpg

Metabunk 2018-05-06 20-45-55.jpg

Here''s the most UFO-like section of the video I shot. Close up looks like some objects becoming visible.
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4w3nW45F3Fw
 
Last edited:

Leifer

Senior Member.
Mick said,
I know that area.... North-North/West of Santa Monica. Looking in that direction, the point of the coastline is Zuma Beach, and Paradise Cove.
There is so much (fata morgana) distortion in that distant 'zoomed-in' shot, it looks like there is a city of high-rises or industry. But, there is none of that, in that direction.
All that is there is beach homes and nothing much taller than 3-storey homes, condos, apt complexes, or maybe a mini-mall.

34°00'32.88" N 118°30'04.45" W
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I know that area.... North-North/West of Santa Monica. Looking in that direction, the point of the coastline is Zuma Beach.
There is so much (fata morgana) distortion in that distant 'zoomed-in' shot, it looks like there is a city of high-rises or industry. But, there is none of that in that direction.
That's what caught my eye. I used to live in a condo in Santa Monica that had a view of that part of the Bay.

All that is there is beach homes and nothing much taller than 3-storey homes, condos, apt complexes, or maybe a mini-mall.
Mostly what is being raised up there is the tops of trees. Here's a comparison with a similar view taken on a clear day.

Metabunk 2018-05-07 21-33-31.jpg
 

Robert Sheaffer

New Member
Yes. "Temperature inversions" used to be a favorite explanation for UFOs, especially by Menzel. And frankly, it was greatly overused. Superior mirages are only seen over bodies of water (or possibly an extremely flat plain) when a layer of stable warm air overlays cooler air. This is not uncommon in the spring, because air warms up faster than bodies of water. The tell-tale sign of such a mirage is the double horizon, clearly seen in this photo I took of a superior mirage over Lake Michigan in May, 1970. What we see between the two horizons is an image of the water beyond the normal horizon. You can see the distorted image of a distant ship raised up and stretched out. The "Flying Dutchman."

There is a chapter on Optical Mirages in the Condon Report (Section 6, chapter 4). After wading through a whole lot of mathematics, it concludes,

"a superior mirage image is not likely beyond an angular distance of 1 to 2 degrees above the horizon. Hence, mirages appear "low in the sky" and near the horizontal plane of view. An optical image seen near the zenith is not attributable to mirage."
http://files.ncas.org/condon/text/s6chap04.htm

In fact, the estimate of 2 degrees is extremely generous. When I was a student at Northwestern, I had a dorm room looking out on Lake Michigan, and while I saw the double horizon on numerous occasions, I don't think it was ever more than about one degree in elevation, if even that.

Are any UFO reports attributable to mirage conditions? Undoubtedly a few, but it's not a major factor. From time to time observers in extreme southwestern Michigan (near St. Joseph) report seeing strange lights over Lake Michigan. These are almost certainly the lights of Chicago, normally below the horizon but lifted up by a mirage. I remember one evening sitting in my dorm room and using binoculars to watch a distant train moving along the shore of the lake - in a position where normally only water is seen.


PICT0156.JPG
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
In fact, the estimate of 2 degrees is extremely generous. When I was a student at Northwestern, I had a dorm room looking out on Lake Michigan, and while I saw the double horizon on numerous occasions, I don't think it was ever more than about one degree in elevation, if even that.
Yeah, this is a full zoom shot with a Nikon P900, where the vertical FOV is about 1°
Metabunk 2018-05-18 15-30-42.jpg
Meaning the mirage is only about 0.3 degrees above the ocean horizon. It was just visible to the (well attuned) naked eye, but a "UFO" would need magnification.
 
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