Scientists have long been baffled by the Min Min lights in the Australian outback, which seem to follow travelers for long distances. Researcher Jack Pettigrew says, “The Min Min light seems to have magical qualities, sometimes following observers, even as they speed away in vehicles, while at other times seeming to retreat shyly.” Although these light appear to be close by, they can actually be hundreds of miles away.

He decided to find out what causes them and says, “The Min Min light occurs when light, from a natural or man-made source, is refracted to an observer who is tens, or even hundreds, of kilometres away, by an inverted mirage, or Fata Morgana. Named after the Morgan fairy, who was reputed to be able to conjure cities on the surface of the sea ice, the Fata Morgana is a real physical phenomenon, being caused by a temperature inversion.

“A cold, dense layer of air next to the ground (or sea, or sea ice) carries light far over the horizon to a distant observer without the usual dissipation and radiation, to produce a vivid mirage?In a celebrated and authenticated example, the Irish sea cliffs were seen floating in vivid greens and browns above the calm Atlantic by observers on a ship more than a thousand kilometres away?Fata Morgana can be terrifying at night when a single light source gives no hint that it is actually part of a mirage emanating from a great distance.”

Mirages that led thirsty desert travels to water holes, only to find nothing there but sand, are probably caused the same way.

Learn the mystery of Egyptian powdered gold?among other things?on the long-awaited Dreamland show with Laurence Gardner, starting Saturday, May 10.

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