We humans have learned to create some rather amazing things, but Mother Nature is no slouch herself when it comes to providing phenomena that astound and intrigue. From the undersea waterfall of Mauritius, to the blood-red rain of Kerala, nature hosts a multitude of spectacular sights. Read on to find out about 20 of the most astonishing.
These peculiar, dagger-shaped ice and snow shards are formed in the Dry Andes at altitudes above 13,000 feet. The penitentes can be anything from just a few inches high up to as much as 16 feet. Interestingly, the 2015 NASA mission to Pluto discovered a very similar phenomenon on that planet’s surface. On Pluto, the formations are composed of frozen methane and can be hundreds of feet tall.
19. Eye of the Sahara
The Eye of the Sahara, also known as the Richat Structure, is a topographical feature measuring nearly 30 miles across. Located in the African country of Mauritania, it was first noticed by astronauts crossing the Sahara – the view shown here is actually a satellite photo. “Initially interpreted as a meteorite impact structure because of its high degree of circularity, it is now thought to be merely a symmetrical uplift that has been laid bare by erosion,” NASA’s website explains.
18. Blue sea
This extraordinary blue coloring in the sea off Hong Kong is actually a bioluminescent bloom caused by tiny organisms called Noctiluca scintillans. The phenomenon is known as Sea Sparkle and occurs when the little critters are disturbed in some way. Pretty as this display is, though, it’s not desirable. That’s because the organisms can have a disastrous impact on marine life and the livelihoods of local fishermen.
17. Blood Falls
The photo here shows the legendary Blood Falls in East Antarctica. This somewhat gruesome waterfall flows into the sea from the tip of the Taylor Glacier located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Victoria Land. In fact, the explanation behind the phenomenon actually has nothing to do with blood. Rather, it’s caused by iron oxides flowing from a water pool some 1,300 feet below the ice.
16. Kawah Ijen volcano
After a blue sea, here we see blue flames pouring from the mouth of a volcano in Indonesia. Furthermore, what’s actually igniting is sulfur gas, which characteristically burns with a blue flame. The sulfuric gases flow from fissures at temperatures as high as 1,112°F and start to burn once they hit the atmosphere. Some of the gas also converts to a liquid form, which carries on burning as it runs down the sides of the volcano.
15. Blood from a stone
This might look like a bleeding stone but in fact it’s a living organism, Pyura chilensis. A kind of sea squirt, the organism is found off the Pacific coasts of both Chile and Peru. Moreover, sea squirts are immobile marine creatures that attach themselves to rocks. The sea squirts are often prised off, though, as they’re regarded as a great delicacy among the folk of Chile.
14. Underwater waterfall
Visually stunning though they often are, waterfalls are a common enough natural feature. But a waterfall flowing under the sea? Now, that is unusual. As it happens, the one you see here is off the coast of the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. However, before you get too excited, it’s actually sand and silt that is pouring downwards through the sea, moved by the ocean currents. But for all the world it sure looks like an underwater waterfall.
13. Volcanic lightning
This is the Puyehue volcano in Chile erupting violently in June 2011, garlanded by bolts of lightning captured with the help of long-exposure photography. This was the volcano’s first major eruption since 1960, and it hurled an ash plume nearly 40,000 feet into the atmosphere. The grey volcanic ash subsequently spread as far as 60 miles away into neighboring Argentina.
12. Rainbow Mountains
These mountains are located in China’s Zhangye National Geopark, 124 square miles of spectacular landscapes located in the northwestern province of Gansu. Deposits of sandstone and various minerals over a 24-million-year period are responsible for the vivid layers of other-worldly colors that illuminate the range. Moreover, a similar geological phenomenon is to be found in Peru at the 21,000-feet high Ausangate mountain in the Andes.
11. Crooked Forest
This thoroughly peculiar forest is to be found just outside the Polish village of Nowe Czarnowo. Indeed, the strangely bent trees are like something from a sinister middle-European fairy tale. In fact, no one knows for sure whether these pines have been shaped by human hands or by some mysterious force of nature. The Crooked Forest, as it’s known, was planted in the 1930s and consists of some 100 trees, all of which curve to the north.
10. Giant Antarctic hole
An enormous hole appeared in the Antarctic sea ice in September 2017, described by National Geographic as being “the size of Maine.” The hole is in the Weddell Sea and is known as a polynya. As it happens, a similar phenomenon was observed four decades ago. University of Toronto professor Kent Moore told National Geographic, “In the depths of winter, for more than a month, we’ve had this area of open water. It’s just remarkable that this polynya went away for 40 years and then came back.”
9. Snow roller
Snow rollers can come in a variety of shapes and sizes – they can be as large as a family car, or as tiny as a baseball. Most of us have rolled up snow after a heavy fall, perhaps as the basis of a snowman. However, snow rollers are created by nature without any human intervention at all. The snow sculptures are formed by the action of wind catching chunks of snow and then rolling them along the ground or down hillsides.
8. Red rain
Between July and September 2001, the southern Indian state of Kerala experienced an extremely unsettling natural event – deluges of blood-red rain. In fact, black, green and yellow rains have also been reported over the years, in Sri Lanka as well as Kerala. Fortunately, though, there’s a perfectly harmless explanation for the phenomenon. It’s caused by spores from Trentepohlia annulata algae which float through the atmosphere naturally.
7. Desert Rose
These desert roses are not actually flowers at all – they are crystal formations. Furthermore, they’re formed naturally by groupings of gypsum or baryte crystals mingled with sand grains. As their name suggests, the “roses” are found in deserts, and the one pictured here comes from the North African deserts of Tunisia. In some cases, when iron oxide is present among sand grains, the desert rose can have an attractive pinkish hue.
6. Underwater river
We saw a waterfall under the sea in Mauritius earlier and here’s another seemingly unlikely phenomenon: a river that runs underwater. The river is in the Cenote Angelita on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. A cenote is a naturally occurring sinkhole, and the one that features this ghostly underwater river is 180 feet deep. So, if you want to go and see it for yourself, you’ll need to be a highly experienced diver.
5. Fog bow
This phenomenon is rather like the pale ghost of a conventional multicolored rainbow, only spookier. Indeed, an alternative name for the fog bow is white rainbow. During foggy weather, they’re caused by minuscule drops of water, as small as 0.002 inches, diffracting sunlight. Those that form at night, meanwhile, are known as lunar fog bows and are illuminated by diffracted light from the moon.
4. Murmuration of starlings
A murmuration of starlings is a huge flock of the birds which flies in ever-changing formations around dusk as the birds prepare to roost for the night. The murmuration you see here is above the English seaside town of Brighton. Ornithologists theorize that starlings perform these spectacular aerobatic displays possibly as protection against predators, or perhaps to pass on information about good feeding locations. The truth is that nobody knows for sure why they do it.
3. Light pillars
These beautiful ribbons of colored light known as light pillars could be mistaken for some kind of mysterious alien form of signaling or communication. In fact, they’re seen when an abundance of tiny ice crystals float about in the atmosphere in the presence of an available light source. Moreover, that light source can be the sun, the moon or even street lighting.
2. Weird oozing foam
Passersby in the Chinese city of Nanjing were shocked to see this bizarre foam erupting from the street a few years ago. Covering around 500 square feet, the foam was apparently spontaneously bubbling up from the road. City hall officials said that works being carried out on the subway running under the street may have been behind the eerie phenomenon. Whatever was responsible, police cleared the area and firefighters hosed the foam away.
1. Fairy circles
Wouldn’t it be charming if fairies really had created the strange circles that occur primarily on the Namib Desert grasslands in southern Africa? Sadly, as so often, the actual explanation for this intriguing phenomenon is quite a lot less romantic than that. In fact, it seems likely that the arid desert conditions where the fairy circles are seen cause the plants to grow in this way. They do so as an efficient method of exploiting scarce water resources. Fairies would be so much more fun!