The Milky Way

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The Milky Way as seen from ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile Credit: ESO

There really is no place more magical than the Milky Way. Where imaginations start to run wild, time ceases to exist, and more than a 100 billion stars reside in the pitch black universe. Gazing into the Milky Way is incredibly mesmerising, there is always this sense of hope where somewhere, something incredible is just waiting to be discovered in the vast universe.

Best places to observe the Milky Way:

National Bridges Monument, Utah, USA

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Aurora (The Dancing Lights)

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© 2015 Tor-Ivar Næss

This elusive lady appears only when it’s very extremely cold and dark. She’s hard to catch, but for sure, she’s worth the chase. She has stolen the hearts of many, and it’s not surprising at all. Just a glimpse of her, you are captivated, and you know she will be imprinted in your mind forever. She’s the Aurora, also known as the Polar Light. There are 2 kinds- the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and the lesser-known Aurora Australis (Southern Lights).  

They are formed when charged particles emitted from the sun during a solar flare penetrate the earth’s magnetic shield, colliding with atoms and molecules in our atmosphere. These collisions result in countless little bursts of light, called photons, which make up the aurora.

Best places to watch the Aurora Borealis:

Ivalo, Finland

Svalbard, Norway

Reykjavik, Iceland

Best place to watch the Aurora Australis:

New Zealand

Bioluminescence

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Bioluminescent phytoplankton washes up on Maldives beach (Picture: Will Ho) Will Ho

Ever wanted to wade in a glowing sea, where more than a million beaming bright blue lights glisten and dance around you? Well, I know I dream of it often. This beautiful, luminous phenomenon occurs when brackish water combines with nutrients from red mangrove trees, creating a perfect environment for bioluminescent dinoflagellates to thrive. Did you know bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism, and is actually a form of chemiluminescence? Now you do!

Best places to observe bioluminescence:

Reethi Beach, Maldives

Norfolk, UK

Toyama Bay, Japan (not exactly bioluminescent plankton, but firefly squid are found in abundance there, creating a similar effect)

Lenticular clouds

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Lenticular cloud sunset over extinct volcano, Patagonia, Argentina 

by David H. Collier/Getty Images

Have you ever looked up and thought you saw a UFO? Or a plateau that looks like it has detached itself off the ground and has started drifting through the air? Chances are, it’s probably a lenticular cloud you saw. The majestic sight of these magnificent clouds is sure to take your breath away, and leave you astonished at the wondrous beauty of the world. Weirdly enough, these oddly shaped clouds give me a sense of serenity and peace that I can’t explain. Maybe that’s because they look like they hold another magical realm inside them, and everyone wants to escape from this world at times, right?

Lenticular clouds are formed when air moves over mountains, cooling sufficiently for condensation to take place. Lenticular clouds are different from other clouds because they don’t move. They are continually reformed over the same location by new air rising up and over a mountain, condensing and producing the clouds.

Best places to see this: Near Mountains or a mountain range

The Andes mountain range

Hida Mountains (Nagano Prefecture, Japan)

Sangre De Cristos Mountains (New Mexico)

Frost flowers (crystallopholia)

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Crystallofolia (frost flowers) on dittany (Cunila origanoides).

Frost flowers aren’t actually real flowers? What? These beautiful and delicate frost flowers look like they were spun by pixies. They melt at the first breath of heat from the sun, and disappear into thin air.

They form when temperatures drop below freezing, but the ground is still warm enough to keep root systems of plants alive. Plants can still draw water from their roots up into their stems, where it quickly freezes (due to cold air). Ice crystals formed then push their way out through the stem’s thin walls, forming the delicate frost flowers! The ice crystals may form thin ribbons or curling sheets, and once these join together, they create a shape like a flower petal!

Best places to see frost flowers: Very early in the morning before the sun rays hit and melt them. Most commonly spotted among tall weeds in cold areas that are not mowed often. Eg frostweed/tickweed which is commonly grown in Texas, are a species known for producing frost flowers.

The Hessdalen lights

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The rarest of all the phenomena mentioned, the Hessdalen Lights are unexplained nocturnal lights. They are usually bright white, yellow or red, and can appear above and below the horizon.  These radiant lights remind me of Santa’s sleigh dashing through the sky on a snowy Christmas Eve night. However, the Hessdalen lights still remain a huge, unsolved mystery to date, though numerous theories have attempted to explain how they are created.

Where this can be found:

Only in Hessdalen Valley, rural central Norway

 

Written by:

Victoria Cheung, 16A14

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