The Fata Morgana effect
— Horitzons llunyans (@finestresdaire) December 14, 2017
There's an impossible photo which has been splashed all over Twitter recently which shows the silhouette of the peaks of Puig de Massanella and Puig Major in Mallorca's majestic Tramuntana mountains. Nothing unusual in that, there are photos of these twin peaks all over the Internet, but what makes this photo unique is that it was taken from Barcelona!
Thanks to maths lessons fifty years ago I learnt that given the curvature of the earth, far away objects will sooner or later disappear over the horizon. So, at over 100 miles away from the 413 metre high vantage point of Mount Tibidabo in Barcelona, it is normally impossible to see the mountains of Mallorca, despite their height.
What has happened here is a meteorological effect known as Fata Morgana (that's a mirage to you and me) where rays of light are bent when they pass through air layers of different temperatures which act like a prism. It's an optical phenomenon which occurs when there is a thermal inversion, a rare event when warm air exists above cool air – normally the warmer air is closer to the Earth's surface than the cooler air.
Luckily, Marc Bret, photographer and Tweeter, was about to capture this rare phenomenon which you can see in his photos which I've reproduced here. Incredible aren't they? They really dispense with the myth that mirages usually feature a desert oasis with palm trees and belly dancers.
Wouldn't it be fantastic to see it in real life?