Did you know that the Earth’s atmosphere is around 480 kilometers thick? Compared to that, the Earth’s crust has a thickness of only 70 kilometers! Our atmosphere is a vast expanse of clouds, air, and other gases. And what’s interesting is that it’s not as still or calm as it looks from the Earth’s surface. Instead, it’s more like a busy playground with particles constantly moving and colliding with each other – like the schoolyard during lunch break before the pandemic!
Some of the most interesting scientific phenomena can be observed up above in the sky. Today we tell you five air and atmospheric events that will leave you surprised. Ready?
Firefalls: The curious contemporary of waterfalls
During the late winter in the Northern Hemisphere, some waterfalls look like they’re flowing with fire instead of water. One of the most famous examples of this is the Horsetail Fall in Yosemite National Park, USA. The reason? The perfect timing of setting sunrays hitting a semi-frozen waterfall! During early February, just as the water in the falls begins to thaw, the Earth is tilted at the perfect angle for the sunrays to hit the falls as it’s setting. Add some atmospheric science that bends the rays into a perfect position and there you have it, a waterfall that looks like it’s flowing with fire!
St.Elmo’s Fire: Lightning’s more interesting friend
St.Elmo’s Fire is a phenomenon that comprises long, blue streaks of light that appear in the sky during a storm. However, they are not lightning – but a type of superhot matter called plasma. When a gas is heated to very high temperatures or is exposed to high electricity, the electrons from their atoms are ripped apart and the gas becomes ionised. In a stormy sky there is so much friction in the clouds that they create a strong electrical field that then generates plasma in the air. This appears like blue streaks of light that can be seen on the masts of ships and the wings of aeroplanes!
Skyquakes: The sky trembling with sound
Skyquakes are actually cooler than their name sounds – because nobody really knows how they happen! All we know is that they are loud, booming noises in the sky that correspond to earthquakes. One of the most famous skyquakes was the Barisal Guns. In the 19th century, loud gunfire-like noises were recorded in the Barisal region of Bangladesh. Till date, nobody knows about its exact origins. However, a lot of places near the coastlines have reported similar sounds from the sky.
Moonbow: The moon showing off its talent
Also called a lunar rainbow, a moonbow takes place at night. Similar to the sun’s rays refracting to form a rainbow, a moonbow is formed by the refraction of moonbeams. However, since moonlight is not as bright as sunlight, moonbows are very faint compared to rainbows. They are also usually seen near waterfalls because there is a lot of water in the air to refract moonbeams. Otherwise at any other time at night, if it’s raining opposite the moon and the moon is low on the horizon then you have a very good chance of catching a moonbow!
Green flash: The sun’s last goodbye
A green flash is a super short atmospheric event that takes place for only a few seconds when the sun is setting or rising. It is usually seen as green flashes or rays of light just as the sun is crossing the horizon. It takes place because the Earth’s atmosphere causes the sunrays to briefly refract, making green coloured light reach our eyes. This is a fairly common atmospheric event and if you pay close attention, you might spot it too!
Which of these atmospheric events fascinated you the most? Let us know in the comments!
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Deepthi is an ambivert who is on a steady diet of good food, filter coffee, and self-improvement. Being an ardent reader, storytelling has been her first love and she enjoys exploring how to convey stories compellingly. Having studied psychology and experienced the learning and development field, Deepthi is driven to understand human behavior and to know what makes each of us unique. You are most likely to find her tucked into a cozy corner at a local cafe with a Kindle or a book in hand. If you find her there, stop by and say hello, she'd be eager to learn your story too. Until then, you can ping her at email@example.com for anything you may like to share.
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