Friday, November 30, 2007

Arctic Mirage

Early Thursday morning, as I left for school, I glanced across the lake and noticed a familiar twinkling on the western horizon. Some seventy miles away the lights of Wainwright, radiating through the icy air, flickered like tongues of fire against the dark, velvety sky. In spite of the distance, details of that neighboring village were clearly visible. The pulsating signal from the airport, numerous streetlights, and even headlights from moving vehicles, were easily identified. Although it sounds like a hallucination, I was actually seeing what I believe can be described as an Arctic mirage.

I searched the internet for information and, more importantly, photographs of the phenomenon. My initial Google search yielded 35,400 results. Yikes! I sifted through about twenty sites, searching for photos that accurately depict what I have actually seen over the years. So far, I haven’t found anything that even comes close. The biggest difference seems to be our lack of sunlight. None of the photos that I’ve encountered were taken at night. However, I did find some interesting facts and explanations, so I’ve included some related links in the sidebar to the left of this posting for those who are inclined to delve deeper. And here is a nifty little diagram that I will definitely be using with my students in the future.

Arctic Mirage

Since childhood, my only concept of mirage has been an eerily fluid image (usually an oasis) floating above the burning sands of a stifling desert. In movies, mirages are usually figments of the imagination that inevitably evaporate with increased proximity to reality. But the phenomenon that I’m describing isn’t a work of the imagination. I’ve heard it said that truth is stranger than fiction. That definitely seems to apply here. The scientific explanation just makes the occurrence of Arctic mirage that much more intriguing. The basic principle is that various factors work together to allow one to see things that actually do exist beyond the horizon. I read about explorers and other sailors who used the mirages to help navigate toward known geographical locations. How amazing is that?

Both literally and figuratively, how cool would it be to have the ability to see beyond the edge…around the corner…or over the next hill? I’m not talking about psychic phenomenon or fortune-telling or even a desire to know the future. I’m more interested in the idea of being visionary. There are those who, for whatever reason, have the ability to see beyond the horizon and encourage others toward it. They don’t know every detail of the journey, but they are certain of the destination because they’ve "seen" it. Maybe we all have visionary moments at different points in our lives, fleeting but helpful glimpses of what lies ahead that keep us moving in the right direction. I like that idea. It’s something I hope to remember every time I see the lights of a neighboring village flickering through the darkness…and especially during the times when I don’t.



Karen said...

This is really interesting. I haven't heard of this phenomenon before. Now you'll definitely have to get a good camera and try shooting it!

Kimberlee said...

Hi, Karen. You are absolutely right! I do need a new camera. Last night, when I took my dogs out, there was Wainwright twinkling on the horizon again. I went back inside and retrieved the little point-n-shoot that I've been using. couldn't do it. I knew that, but couldn't resist the compulsion to try. :)

Steve said...

Hey, Kimberlee. this mirage posting explains something I kept seeing while I was in Ocracoke in October. Out across Pamlico Sound I could see white objects that seemed to float above the water's surface. I eventually decided they must be shrimp boats or large sailboats beyond the horizon. But at the time, I wondered if I could be seeing buildings on the mainland, 25-30 miles away. Some of them moved in relationship to each other, and that became my primary clue that they probably were't buildings.

Kimberlee said...

Hi, Steve. It does sound like you were experiencing the same mirage effect that I've seen here. Being able to identify the objects in the mirage is much easier for me because I know there is absolutely nothing between Atqasuk and Wainwright. For you, though, I'm sure identification was a bit more challenging. (at least until the buildings started moving around! LOL)

Thanks for sharing your experience!