This video is simply unbelievable: Buildings, mountains and trees materializing in the mist over the water, following a heavy downpour at dusk. Witnesses couldn't believe their eyes. I couldn't believe it either. But cameras don't lie, right?

The video—shown by the British news channel ITN—was recorded in East China, over the Xin'an River. According to Chinese media and locals, this is not the first time this has happened, but it has never been so spectacular and detailed.

You can clearly see what appears to be a normal city—hills, rivers, and buildings floating in the mist, as if they were real. But they are not there, even while the cameras were capturing them. I was skeptical but, technically, these kinds of mirages are possible.


Mirages are natural optical phenomenons in which light is bent to produce the image of a distant object. Since they are actual optical events, they are seen by the naked eyes as well as cameras. You probably have seen a few of these, most probably less complex ones. Inferior and superior images can occur over deserts and highways, as well as water. If you have ever seen fake water over a hot road, that's a mirage.

But then there are more complex mirages, like those called Fata Morganas—which take the name from the sorcerer Morgan le Fay, from the Arthurian legend. Fata Morganas can result in very elaborate images that look exactly like the real objects, and not just a deformed version:

In his book Pursuit: The Chase and Sinking of the "Bismarck", the author Ludovic Kennedy describes an incident that allegedly took place below the Denmark Strait during 1941, following the sinking of the Hood. The Bismarck, while pursued by the British cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk, passed out of sight into a sea mist. Within a matter of seconds, the ship re-appeared steaming toward the British ships at high speed. In alarm the cruisers separated, anticipating an imminent attack, and observers from both ships watched in astonishment as the German battleship fluttered, grew indistinct and faded away. Radar watch during these events indicated that the Bismarck had in fact made no changes of course.

The case of the Chinese city could be like the Bismarck, although there are no reports on how fast the images were changing.

You can read more about mirages here, here and here. [Treehugger]

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