stunning natural phenomena horsetail

13 stunning natural phenomena

In the past few days, an old YouTube video started doing the rounds once more. The video claims to show what the sky would look like if different planets in our solar system were as close as the moon. It’s pretty impressive and got us talking about some of the amazing natural phenomena that already exist right here on Earth. Below, we list our favourites.

It’s worth noting that we define a ‘natural phenomenon’ as something that is not man made (obviously) and that only occurs in specific places at specific times under specific conditions (i.e. not a static attraction like, say, Derweze that you can go and see at any time).

Have a look and tell us in the comments which ones you most want to see.

1. Aurora Borealis

stunning natural phenomena northern lights

The Aurora Borealis, more commonly known as the Northern Lights, is a natural light display in the sky usually seen in high latitude regions like the Arctic. There is a scientific explanation which we won’t go into (if you must know, it’s the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere). The lights are best seen in northern regions like Canada, Alaska, Norway, Greenland and Iceland but have also appeared further south in Scotland and even New Orleans in the US.

2. Catatumbo lightning, Venezuela

stunning natural phenomena venezuala lightning

(Image: Ruzhugo27, Creative Commons)

This ‘eternal storm’ of lightning occurs on 140 to 160 nights a year, 10 hours per day and up to 280 times per hour. It appears over Lake Maracaibo, usually over the area where the Catatumbo River flows into the lake. After appearing continually for centuries, the lightning ceased from January to April 2010, possibly due to drought. This raised fears that it was extinguished permanently but thankfully it reappeared several months later. Scientists say that Catatumbo is normal lightning that just happens to occur far more than anywhere else due to local topography and wind patterns.

3. Cloud formations

When you grow up in London, you develop a special hatred of clouds. You see, we rarely get that wispy, brilliant-white, cotton candy cloud that glides through warmer climes. No, our clouds are grey, bulging and ominous. They threaten to burst over July barbecues so hopefully and guilelessly planned. They preside over summer weddings like a harbinger of doom. They laugh in the face of the Queen’s Jubilee. What no-one told us is that it doesn’t have to be this way…

stunning natural phenomena clouds 2

Lenticular clouds (Image: Ave Maria Mõistlik, Creative Commons)

stunning natural phenomena clouds 1

Asperatus clouds (Image: Omnisource5, Creative Commons)

Mammatus clouds natural phenomena

Mammatus clouds (Image: Craig Lindsay, Creative Commons)

4. Sea of stars


The island of Vaadhoo in the Raa Atoll of the Maldives is famous for its ‘sea of stars’. As if the island vistas weren’t beautiful enough, at night the sea is lit by marine bioluminescence, generated by plankton known as dinoflagellates. (No, we don’t know what they are either but who cares when they’re so stunning?)

5. Lake bubbles, Canada

stunning natural phenomena ice bubbles

These formations beneath Abraham Lake in Canada may look beautiful but are actually made of methane gas. Caused by the decomposition of organic matter like plants, animals and microbes, the flammable gas travels closer to the surface in warmer months, eventually escaping into the atmosphere. The process is harmless as long as you’re not lighting up close by.

6. Light pillars

stunning natural phenomena light pillars - 1

(Image: Christoph Geisler, Creative Commons)

Light pillars are an optical phenomenon that occur when light from the sun or moon is reflected upwards by ice crystals that form in frosty air. Maybe Russia’s not so depressing after all.

7. Horsetail Falls, USA

stunning natural phenomena horsetail

Horsetail Falls in Yosemite National Park flows in winter and early spring. If it’s flowing in February and the weather conditions are just right, the setting sun illuminates the waterfall, making it glow orange and red. Let the Lord of the Rings roleplay begin.

8. Waterspouts

stunning natural phenomena waterspout - 1

(Image: Dr. Joseph Golden, Creative Commons)

Waterspouts are like tornadoes but occur over water and are usually accompanied by high winds and seas, large hail, and frequent dangerous lightning. They occur mainly in the tropics and subtropical areas, but have also been reported in Europe, New Zealand and even Antarctica.

9. Hessdalen lights, Norway


These strange orbs of light hovering over a valley in central Norway have baffled scientists for three decades. Sometimes as big as cars, the orbs have (understandably) triggered numerous reports of UFO sightings. Some orbs drift gently through the sky for up to two hours while others flash white or blue and streak through the valley, disappearing in seconds. Eerie.

10. Turquoise ice, Russia


Lake Baikal, located in eastern Siberia in Russia, is one of the largest and deepest lakes in the world, holding an enormous one-fifth of the world’s freshwater. In March, weather conditions cause cracks and ice hummocks to form, which in turn create a stunning natural phenomenon: brilliant turquoise ice shards woven into the masses of broken ice. It’s basically something out of a Disney movie. All together now: let it go, let it go.

11. Volcanic lightning


As if active volcanoes weren’t scary enough, we now learn that some are so ferocious, they actually produce lightning. Known as a ‘dirty thunderstorm’, this phenomenon is caused by electrical charges generated when rock fragments, ash, and ice particles in a volcanic plume collide and produce static charges, just as ice particles collide in regular thunderstorms. Yizers.

12. Snow chimneys

Snow chimneys are a form of ‘fumarole’, vents in the Earth’s crust which allow steam and gases to escape from volcanoes. In Arctic areas, as soon as the steam leaves one of these vents, it freezes, eventually forming massive snow chimneys like this one on Mount Erebus in Antarctica.

Take a look at this photograph by George Steinmetz on The Guardian.

13. Fire whirls


If there were ever a mark of the Devil, surely this would be it. A fire whirl, also known as a ‘fire devil’ or ‘fire tornado’ happens when intense rising heat and turbulent wind conditions combine to form a whirling twister made of flame and ash. According to the National Geographic, the fiery core inside the swirling wind is usually one to three feet wide and five to ten stories tall and, at the extreme, can stretch dozens of feet wide and more than a hundred stories tall. Terrifying.

(Additional photography: Dreamstime)

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