Tue, Sep 7, 2010
People travel all over the world to see strange natural wonders and unusual landscapes. But what about traveling to places where you can witness some of the weirdest natural phenomena on earth? Like this…
Aurora Borealis & Aurora Australis
No, it’s not a bird, it’s not a plane, and it’s definitely not an alien invasion; that strange glowing green light in the sky is an atmospheric phenomenon called an aurora. Auroras occur when solar winds crash into the earth’s atmosphere, causing ions, atoms and molecules to explode into neon light. What results is an amazing color show where waves of light twist and wind into the shape of ribbons and arcs. It’s kind of like looking at an iTunes visualizer in the sky.
When and Where can I see it: Auroras are at their brightest near equinoxes and two days after intense solar activity. They appear as rings around the poles, so poor Santa is often left in the dark. You probably know of the Aurora Borealis as the northern lights, and it’s best seen in Fairbanks, Alaska, parts of Eastern Canada and parts of Scandanavia in March and September. The Aurora Australis, or southern lights, are much more difficult to see unless you live on Antarctica, but you can sometimes catch glimpses in parts of Australia and South America. The best time to view an aurora is around midnight when the sky is darkest.
Remember watching those cartoons where a dark cloud followed miserable people? Well, these villagers must be constantly miserable because there’s a dark cloud over this place all the time. Here, violent lightning storms take place between 140 and 160 nights a year, for 10 straight hours. The locals call it the “eternal storm.” There’s so much lightning activity in this one concentrated area that it’s considered the world’s largest regenerator of ozone on the planet. That means that this endless lightning storm is actually repairing the ozone layer. The storm is caused by masses of clouds that constantly crash into each other in this one area. Looks like a cool place to visit, but your odds of being struck by lightning probably increase dramatically.
When and Where can I see it: This strange atmospheric phenomenon occurs in Venezuela where the mouth of the Catatumbo River empties into Maracaibo Lake.
Whether you call ‘em ghostlights, spooklights, St. Elmo’s fires, or will-o’-the-wisps, we can all agree that they’re weird as hell. Except scientists. They say that these weird orbs of flickering light that hover over swamps and forests are just airplanes or headlights in the distance — even though they’ve been around long before those were ever invented. Less skeptical people think the lights, which can only been seen at night, have a supernatural origin. Whatever the case may be, ghostlight hunting is just as exciting as UFO hunting.
When and Where can I see it: There are two places in America that you would never consider visiting if they didn’t have ghostlights. The first is Marfa, Texas, where the Marfa Lights can appear on Mitchell Flat any night, sometimes for a few seconds, sometimes for hours. The city even has an official ghostlight viewing platform. The other ghostlight hotspot is near Linville Falls, North Carolina. They’re called the Brown Mountain Lights and they appear between September and November. But don’t try to get too close to them or they’ll disappear.
The Morning Glory Cloud
One of the rarest cloud formations is a roll cloud, which is a low-lying tube-shaped cloud that appears to roll through the sky like a baker’s rolling pin. It’s so rare that most people will never see a roll cloud in their life. But there’s one spot on earth where roll clouds appear often. They call it the Morning Glory cloud, but we think a more accurate title would be the Morning Wood cloud. Sometimes there’s just one, sometimes there’s up to eight in a row, and they can stretch up to 1,000 kilometers in length.
When and Where can I see it: A complicated set of circumstances that are not entirely understood by scientists make the southern part of Northern Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria the only place on earth where a roll cloud can be predicted and observed on a regular basis. The best place to see them is in Burketown in September through November when every morning there’s a 40% chance the Morning Glory cloud will make an appearance.
We thought Bowser’s castle was the only place where you had to watch out for fireballs that jumped out of a river, but apparently there’s a place on earth where that actually happens too. For hundreds of years, villagers in Thailand have believed that a serpent in the Mekong River spits out tens of thousands of egg-sized glowing red orbs to pay homage to Buddha at the end of the Buddhist Lent. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why this strange phenomenon happens at the same time every year, and some people say it’s a long-running hoax, but every year people from all over the world gather to watch the Naga fireballs shoot out of the Mekong river and rise hundreds of feet into the sky before disappearing. We think everything deserves a theme song, and fortunately there’s a song that explains how the Naga fireballs work.
Snow usually takes on this nice, soft, delicate shape as it blankets mountains and trees. But there’s a place where snow takes on the more ominous appearance of a knife. They’re called penitentes and they’re tall, thin blades of snow that point toward the sky. This natural phenomenon is the result of strong winds that compact the snow into blocks, where the sun then melts them into the shape of blades. Penitentes are named after the spiked hats of monks called nazarenos, which is a better sounding name than “dunce cap snow.”
When and Where can I see it: The largest penitentes — the ones that stand 6 feet tall — only appear in the Dry Andes at altitudes above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) when the mountains are covered in snow.
The Pororoca wave is a surfer’s dream. Twice a year, the longest wave on earth rolls down the longest river on earth: the Amazon. This phenomenon is a result of tides in the Atlantic Ocean that converge at the mouth of the Amazon River and create a tidal bore that pushes waves as high as 12 feet down the river. The record for the longest distance covered by a surfer happened in 2003 when Picuruta Salazar rode a Pororoca wave almost 10 miles over 37 minutes.
When and Where can I see it: The Pororoca appears once in February and once in March along the Amazon River in Brazil.
Rain of Fish
Legend has it that when a Spanish Catholic missionary named Father Jose Manuel Subirana visited Honduras about a hundred and fifty years ago, he saw so many poor and starving people that he prayed for 3 days and 3 nights asking God to provide them with free food. Suddenly, a miracle happened… it rained fish from the sky. And as crazy as it sounds, the rain of fish STILL happens to this day. It starts just like any storm, but when the rains end, thousands of living fish are flopping on the ground, waiting for villagers to scoop them up and eat them. A scientific explanation is still up in the air, but if you can read Spanish, this might help.
When and Where can I see it: This strange phenomenon is called Festival de la Lluvia de Peces, or Festival of the Rain of Fishes, and it happens sometime between May and July in the city of Yoro, Honduras. Bring a bucket, a grill and a remixed version of “It’s Raining Men.”
To some, the sea turning red is a sign of the apocalypse. To everyone that isn’t related to that crazy religious family in Carrie, it’s a natural phenomenon called a red tide. This happens when microscopic algae suddenly multiply and turn the water red. It may look cool, but it’s deadly: the toxic algae paralyzes sea life and can kill over 100 tons of fish a day. Sometimes red tides can even turn into blue tides when certain bioluminescent plankton becomes agitated and causes the water to glow bright blue at night, kind of like the ocean’s version of a rave.
When and Where can I see it: Red tides occur most often along warm coasts. Your best chances of seeing a red tide are in Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and the Alantic coast of Mexico between August and February. (It’s nice to know that the sea turns red and festive during the holiday season.) Blue tides have been seen in Australia and California during the same time period, but are much rarer.
What’s the coolest natural phenomena that you’ve seen?