Video of the “floating city” above a town in China:
National Geographic opinion:
Video of a mysterious cityscape in the clouds hovering over a Chinese city has gone viral this week. And explanations for this startling video range from a secret NASA project to an elaborate hoax to an actual atmospheric phenomenon.
“[But,] if it is real, it’s called a superior mirage, which just means it’s an upward projecting mirage,” says Jill Coleman, an atmospheric scientist at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
It could be something called a fata morgana, she says, which is a certain kind of atmospheric mirage.
To get a fata morgana, you need cold dense air near the ground with a layer of warmer air above it, Coleman says. This is called a temperature inversion, since it’s the reverse of what usually happens in the atmosphere. They usually occur over large bodies of water since the air tends to be relatively cooler close to an ocean or lake surface, but can form over land too.
This kind of layering will bend light rays as they pass from one air mass into the next. Those light rays are bent in such a way that our brains are tricked into thinking an object is higher than it really is.
And since a person’s perspective can alter the appearance of a fata morgana, the further away from an object a person is, the taller the object will appear, says Coleman.
That’s likely why in the video, “the city looked like it was floating on cloud nine,” she says. It would probably have looked very different to someone standing in the center of the city.
A fata morgana is why people can sometimes see ships “flying” through the sky or a “wall” of water dominating the horizon. In fact, this type of mirage could be how the myth of the Flying Dutchman—a ghost ship that sails the high seas—got its start. And according to historian Tim Maltin, a fata morgana could have contributed to the sinking of the Titanic.
Coleman looked at atmospheric conditions over Jiangxi and Foshan, China, during the time the video was supposedly shot.
“They did have temperature inversions going on during that time period,” she says.
And some of the buildings in the city below the clouds look similar to what shows up in the sky. So Coleman thinks the video could be real.
Fata morganas can be quite common in certain parts of the world as long as conditions are right, says LeMone.
They’re common in polar regions, says Teresa Wilson, a graduate student in physics at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, in an email. “But [they] can happen anywhere.” People have even seen fata morgana in the Strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily.
LeMone hasn’t ever seen one in person, but she’s seen the reverse—a reflection of the sky on the road—plenty of times. That kind of mirage is known as an inferior mirage because the light rays bend in such a way that our brain thinks an object is lower than it actually is.
“You can see some pretty cool things in the atmosphere,” LeMone says. “You just have to watch for them.”
Even though this “mirage” was shown on Chinese television, it’s certainly not impossible that they are giving bad information to the public. Is this an optical illusion, or a CGI hoax?
The story has now hit English-speaking media in a big way.
The (U.K.) Independent had the story titled Ominous cloud looming over China creates apparition of floating city.
Their story came from The Inquisitr, a citizen journalism site, who certainly could have pinched it from the Chinese links but more likely from the fringe “mysterious” sites who called this a “temporary vortex”, a “parallel universe” or part of a special “Project Blue Beam”. So, we are off to a highly dubious start with no solid sources to confirm these facts. Instead we see the story copied and left unconfirmed.
The video on the channel for “Paranormal Crucible” has received over 3 million hits in the past few days making it a top view for the week. Folks, the rational explanation can NEVER compete with that sort of mystery mongering when people really want to believe in the bizarre. But, as with the “news” reports (I use that term loosely because it’s not news as much as a cool story passed along the web) say that it was witnessed by a large crowd of people. The story, already dubious, falls to pieces here.
On the Group of Fort FB page, Matt Crowley observes:
“I suspect hoax, as my understanding of Fata Morgana is that it appears much closer to the horizon. More importantly, it’s 2015, and if it was witnessed by hundreds it should have been photographed and video recorded by hundreds”
But it wasn’t recorded by hundreds, which is kind of curious. We seem to only have the one video.
Robert Sheaffer of the BadUFOs website said such a claim of a fantastic mirage in China is nothing new. There was this example from 2011 which turned out to NOT be a mirage, claimed one blogger, but a bad translation of a real news story about flooding. The buildings really were there.
Fata morgana superior mirage events are pretty cool, but not quite so dramatic as the buildings depicted in China.
A fata morgana mirage is caused by the bending of light rays through layers of air at different temperatures. They are typically near the horizon.
Even the Accuweather site wants to call the Foshan image a mirage. The Telegraph also adopts this atmospheric phenomena while giving lip service to insane conspiratorial ideas including Project Blue Beam, the idea that this is a trick hologram to simulate the second coming of Christ, which, I admit, it so profoundly ludicrous, I’m in awe of people’s creative imaginations!
But, skeptics who have seen fake after fake are more down to earth, including Mick West from Metabunk who has debunked other sensational photos. He also finds it fishy:
“I don’t think it’s a mirage. [The buildings] appear close to the horizon. I agree with Matt that it’s probably a hoax.”
I know it’s NO FUN to inject rationality and reason into discussion of parallel universes and extraterrestrial vortexes, but we really do have to get on with our life in the real world. So, DN concludes that the best answer is that this is probably a hoax. Our reasoning: the lack of additional recordings, no justification of suitable weather conditions, and the fact that it does not resemble a mirage. Also, producing a hoax really isn’t that difficult. And, you can see the kind of attention it gets with NO critical commentary at all.
A news audience REALLY should be aware that stories can be an OFTEN ARE pilfered from unreliable or even COMPLETELY FAKE sources. If it sounds really amazing, verify before sharing, if you would. That would be the responsible thing to do. With computer graphics being so available to so many, it’s not news that a media site was duped. In fact, it’s increasingly common in a environment where the sensational aspect of a story far outweighs it’s value as truth.
UPDATE (22-Oct-2015) Ben Radford also concurs. There still has not been evidence revealed that would support a natural explanation – no additional views, witnesses or confirmation of weather conditions. The media just continues to report the same including from weather experts BEFORE they have seen the photo! An alternative explanation now proposed by Mick West is that it is a reflection off glass, similar to the UFO over Loch Ness photo that he debunked. It’s possible. But in either case, there was an intent to deceive one or many places along the line by claiming this was a mysterious anomaly.
Author: Jane J. Lee
Info: fata morgana
Photo credits: doubtfulnews.com