Mock Mirage "M-Mir" flashes

Mock Mirage "M-Mir" Flashes: A Phenomenon of Fantastical Shapes

When the sun begins its descent, it undergoes a mesmerizing transformation, taking on various shapes that seem almost otherworldly. At times, it may resemble an onion dome, while on other occasions, it appears as a rectangular figure or even a stack of pancakes. However, there is an extraordinary occurrence that takes place during these sunsets—an elusive and captivating phenomenon known as the Mock Mirage Flash, or M-Mir Flash.

The M-Mir flash is a type of green flash that occurs due to an atmospheric temperature inversion. Typically, the temperature of the air decreases as we ascend into the atmosphere. However, in the presence of an inversion, there are layers where the temperature is warmer than usual, creating a kink in the temperature profile. Even a slight increase in temperature—just one or two degrees Celsius—can give rise to distorted sunsets and green flashes.

To witness a pure M-Mir flash, one must be positioned above the inversion layer. It is worth noting that inversion layers can be relatively close to the ground or ocean. These layers can sometimes undulate due to atmospheric waves, resulting in a variant of the M-Mir flash that can be observed from below the inversion layer.

The Mechanics Behind M-Mir Flashes

To better understand the mechanics behind M-Mir flashes, let's delve into the phenomenon. When light passes through layers of varying air density, it undergoes refraction, causing it to change direction. This bending of light can result in fascinating optical illusions, such as mirages. In the case of M-Mir flashes, the inversion layer acts as a refractive surface that plays a crucial role in their formation.

As the sun nears the horizon during a sunset, its light encounters the inversion layer. This layer has a higher temperature than the air above it, causing the light to bend towards the surface. The bending of light rays can create the illusion of a distorted sun shape, giving rise to the fantastical shapes observed during M-Mir flashes.

Exploring the Role of Altitude

Altitude plays a significant role in the visibility and intensity of M-Mir flashes. Higher altitudes provide a better vantage point for observing these captivating phenomena. As the altitude increases, so does the dip of the actual horizon and the space available for the mirage. This increase in dip enhances the likelihood of witnessing an M-Mir flash.

An excellent example of this can be seen from the ESO La Silla Observatory in Chile, situated at an altitude of 2400 meters. Astronomer Jesús Maíz Apellániz captured a stunning image of a mock mirage sunset and green flash from this observatory, showcasing the remarkable beauty of these atmospheric optics.

Captivating Variations: Undulating Inversion Layers

While M-Mir flashes are typically observed from above the inversion layer, there are instances when atmospheric waves cause these layers to undulate. During such undulations, a variant of the M-Mir flash becomes visible from below the inversion layer. This unique occurrence provides a different perspective on the phenomenon and adds to its allure.

A Play of Colors: The Green Flash

One of the most captivating aspects of M-Mir flashes is the brief appearance of a green flash. This green flash occurs when a small piece breaks off from the top of the sun just as it is about to disappear below the horizon. The green coloration is caused by atmospheric refraction, which separates sunlight into its constituent colors. As the sun's lower edge dips below the horizon, the blue and violet wavelengths are scattered more than the green and red wavelengths, resulting in a momentary green flash.

The Importance of Temperature Inversions

Temperature inversions are crucial for the formation of M-Mir flashes. These inversions can occur under various atmospheric conditions and are influenced by factors such as solar radiation, air masses, and geographical features. Understanding the occurrence and characteristics of temperature inversions is vital for studying and predicting the occurrence of M-Mir flashes.

Observing M-Mir Flashes: A Delight for Sky Enthusiasts

For sky enthusiasts and photographers alike, capturing the elusive M-Mir flash can be a thrilling endeavor. To increase your chances of witnessing this phenomenon, consider the following tips:

  • Seek higher altitudes to gain a better perspective.
  • Familiarize yourself with areas prone to temperature inversions.
  • Pay attention to weather conditions, as certain atmospheric patterns can enhance the likelihood of M-Mir flashes.
  • Be patient and observant, as M-Mir flashes can be sporadic and fleeting.

In conclusion, the Mock Mirage Flash, or M-Mir Flash, offers a captivating glimpse into the wonders of atmospheric optics. From its fantastical shapes to the mesmerizing green flash, this phenomenon continues to intrigue sky enthusiasts around the world. Understanding the mechanics behind M-Mir flashes, the role of altitude, and the influence of temperature inversions allows us to appreciate and explore these elusive moments of natural beauty. So, keep your eyes to the sky and be ready to witness the enchantment of a Mock Mirage Flash.

Mock mirage sunset & green flash seen from the ESO La Silla Observatory, Chile altitude 2400m by astronomer Jesús Maíz Apellániz (site). M-Mir flashes are always below the astronomical horizon - the altitude helped increase the dip of the actual horizon and the space available for the mirage. Image ©Jesús Maíz Apellániz

As the sun sinks it transforms into fantastical shapes. Sometimes an onion dome, sometimes a rectangle, sometimes stacked pancakes.A piece breaks off the top and for a second or so shines green. This is another form of green flash, a mock mirage, M-Mir, flash.The M-Mir flash is produced by an atmospheric temperature inversion.Ordinarily the air temperature decreases monotonically with increasing height. An inversion is the presence of a kink in the temperature profile whereby layers exist that are warmer than usual.An increase in temperature of only one or two degrees Celsius can produce distorted sunsets and green flashes.You must be above the inversion layer to see a pure M-Mir flash. Inversion layers can, however, be quite close to ground or ocean.Sometimes atmospheric waves cause the inversion layer to undulate and then a variant of the M-Mir flash is visible from below it.

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Reference Atmospheric Optics

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  • "Mock Mirage "M-Mir" flashes". Atmospheric Optics. Accessed on May 19, 2024.

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