Have you ever seen a Fata Morgana? The phenomenon is a complex superior mirage that is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon. They are incredibly rare, and luckily, I was able to finally capture one by photograph and video.
I live in a small resort town on Lake Michigan, and a few years ago, I thought I saw Chicago across the lake using my DSLR and a 300 mm lens. I shrugged it off as something else and didn’t take a photo. I thought it was impossible because the Windy City is more than 60 miles across the lake. The human eye can only see about five miles out from from flat ground due to the curvature of the Earth.
Fast forward to this year. I began seeing incredible images on television of a mysterious city floating in the clouds above the South China Sea near Foshan, China. I started to suspect what I previously saw was also a mirage.
Recently, I was driving home on a cool but clear fall day when I saw something peculiar in the distance. They looked like buildings, but I thought they were probably ships. I rushed home and grabbed my DLSR and hurried back around sunset. Sure enough, they were buildings! With my 300 mm lens, I could clearly see the Willis Tower, Trump Hotel and John Hancock Tower in the distance. It was absolutely remarkable because I could see them with my naked eye. But with the telephoto lens, I could even see their beacon lights blinking. These were all fata morganas!
The fata morgana occurs because rays of light are bent when they pass through air layers of different temperatures in a steep thermal inversion. The conditions have to be perfect — warmer air has to float in a fine layer above a layer of significantly cooler air. The thermal inversion has to be strong enough that the curvature of the light rays within the inversion layer is stronger than the curvature of the Earth. This is when the rays bend and create arcs, which shoot out into the distance. I was lucky enough to be within reach to see the arc.
What an awesome sight!