While watching science fiction movies, you may have seen “alien planets” with ice fields, spiraling deserts, and lush forests. Ironically, the real earth has spectacles that appear much more alien than any sci-fi film has ever portrayed.
Glowing rainbow trees, spotted lakes, and blue lava all exist. The pictures might seem photoshopped, but you can see them too if you travel to the right place at the right time. Here are photos of bizarre natural phenomena that may look fake, but are real. Can you guess what causes these odd happenings?
A Colorless Rainbow
Imagine seeing a rainbow with all the color drained out of it. These are white rainbows, and they can come from two different sources. One is called a fog bow, and the other is a moonbow.
Like rainbows, a white rainbow’s arc shape forms from the best angle at which the sun reflects to the viewer. Fogbows form from fog droplets that are 100 times smaller than standard droplets, which light can’t refract from. Lunar light can fashion a moonbow, which is much fainter than solar rainbows, usually too faded to reflect color.
Dive Underwater, Find A River
If you’ve ever wanted to dive and fish at the same time, visit Cenote Angelita in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Swim down, and you’ll discover a murky underwater river that divides the ocean. And yes, you can swim through the river under the sea, because it isn’t actually a river.
The cloudy “river” is forged from collapsed limestone bedrock, which sinks and mixes with groundwater. When the minerals decompose, they form hydrogen sulfide which separates the clear upper water from the muddy lower water.
Birds Become Salt Sculptures
If you initially thought that these birds were an art project, you’re not alone. However, these birds naturally hardened from a real-life Medusa. Lake Natron in northern Tanzania can reach temperatures up to 140°F (60 °C) and acidity as high as pH 10.5, the same level as ammonia.
The lake’s namesake, natron, is a mixture of sodium carbonate and baking soda that produces its toxicity. Should an animal land in the water, they will die and calcify, or crystallize into a carbon compound. Migrating birds and bats don’t know what they’re in for when they land on the water’s surface.
Witnessing a volcanic eruption would be scary enough, but observing electrical discharge from a volcanic eruption would look like Armageddon. However, volcanic lightning occurs quite naturally. The flashes appear when residue charges and kindles electricity. In the past two centuries, only 200 cases have been recorded, making this phenomenon rare.
Depending on the situation, the electricity could result from ash, rock, or ice colliding, generating friction that sparks electricity. Volcanic lightning only occurs with tall ash plumes ranging from 4 miles high (7 km) to 7.5 miles (12 km). So if you see it, run.
Cumulonimbus Clouds Overhead
Some sunsets are more spectacular than others. A lot of that has to do with the clouds. There are ten basic types of clouds, determined by their elevation and shape. This image captures cumulonimbus clouds, which are pillowy clouds that can be close to the ground to upwards of 50,000 feet.
Cumulonimbus clouds are one of the few clouds that cover low, middle and high layers, rising up. This type of cloud also signals that there is rainfall nearby.
That’s Not A Bleeding Rock
If you were to stumble upon one of these weird alien stones on the shoreline of Chile, your first thought probably wouldn’t be to eat it. But this sea creature, Pyura chilensis, is commonly fished and eaten with salad and rice.
P. chilenses are “sea squirts,” invertebrate filter feeders that hang on rocks and inhale water to feed off the sea nutrients. Upon cracking it open, you’d see blood that contains incredibly high doses of vanadium, a rare element. Scientists still don’t know how these sea creatures absorb so much vanadium.
No, This Tree Is Not From Avatar
Most people who pass this tree may think that it’s an art sculpture. But this rainbow eucalyptus naturally creates different-colored bark. In the Philippines, Indonesia, and New Guinea, these natural Bifrosts can grow up to 250 feet tall (76 m).
When the eucalyptus sheds its bark, it reveals a green layer. Over time, this layer will change color, although nobody knows why. Since the bark peels at varying intervals, the tree becomes a palette of rainbow layers. Some of these trees appear pastel, while others glow so vibrantly that people think they’re artificial.
These Rocks Move On Their Own
Over the years, visitors of the Death Valley National Park in California have noticed that rocks seem to shift on their own, leaving behind noticeable trails on the dried lakebed. Nobody has actually seen the rocks move, and no footprints have indicated that anyone is pushing them. But over time, these 700 lb (317 kg) rocks have sailed as far as 820 feet (250 m).
Theories behind these “sailing stones” have ranged from magnetic fields to aliens to hauntings. But in 2006, NASA scientist Ralph Lorenz discovered that these rocks have a slab of ice on the bottom, which makes them easily slide across the sand from the wind.
In the ring of volcanoes bordering Banywang Regency of Java, Indonesia, a bizarre phenomenon occasionally confuses people. The Kawah Ijen volcano, also known as the blue volcano, spurts glowing blue lava.
The Kawah Ijen has a higher sulfur content than most other volcanoes, so when sulfuric gas collides with air as hot as 680°F (360°C), the flames turn blue. Blue lava beautifully decorates the night, but during the day, Kawah Ijen turns into the most dangerous sulfur mine in the world. If you want to see it, work with a guide, since the trip can hurt you.
This Lake Has Spots
In the winter and spring, a Canadian lake in Osoyoos, British Columbia, looks like any other lake. But in the summer, the water evaporates to reveal hundreds of mini-pools, forming a polka-dotted lake. The people of the Okanagan Nation believe that each circle has a different medicinal and healing property.
Each yellow-green pool forms from a high concentration of minerals that slip off of the surrounding hills. Magnesium, calcium, and sodium sulfates all make up different colors across the lake. British Columbia even used the minerals to manufacture ammunition during World War I.
That Turquoise Ice Isn’t Plastic
Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia, is the largest freshwater lake in the world and provides one-fifth of the earth’s clean water supply. The lake is famous for being one of the clearest in the globe — so clear that its frozen sculptures appear turquoise.
In March, these “gems” rise to the surface when the lake freezes unevenly, and reflect the light in such a way as to appear unreal. Wind, sun, and temperature differences carve the lines. Lake Baikal spans 130 feet deep (40 m) and has blessed the world with transparent water for 25 million years.
Don’t Climb That Tree
In 2010, Pakistan flooded with ten years’ worth of rainfall. The deluge destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings, and when the flood waters lowered, residents noticed that several trees were cocooned in a ghostly white veil.
The reason: spiders. Since the water approached one area slowly, millions of insects and spiders fled to the trees. As a result, entire treetops became engulfed in spider webs. These spiders did come with a benefit, though. The number of malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the area drastically lowered wherever the cocoon trees stood.
The Crooked Forest Isn’t Just In A Fairytale
Search for what locals call the “Krzywy Las,” and you’ll encounter a setting straight out of a fairytale. Alongside the town of Gryfino, Poland, a forest of over 400 pine trees all lean in a “J” shape. The trees in the “Crooked Forest,” as it’s called, all bend northward at a 90-degree angle.
As of yet, scientists haven’t discovered how these trees became crooked. The most likely explanation is that Polish farmers bent the trees to make them easier to chop. Farmers commonly manipulated tree growth in the 1930s, but World War II may have disrupted their progress.
This Eternally-Burning Hole Also Includes Spiders
Although this photo may look photoshopped, this crater in Darvaza, Turkmenistan is real and has been burning for over 40 years. It would be scary enough without several tourist accounts of spiders flocking toward the pit, and in some cases, diving into it.
The Darvasa Gas Crater was created in 1971 when a Soviet drilling rig accidentally punctured a natural gas cavern. To stop the gas leak, the Soviets set the hole on fire, figuring that it would burn out in a couple of weeks. Today, it’s still burning. Nobody knows why spiders find the hole alluring, though.
Lightning Strikes The Same Spot Over One Million Times
If you’re afraid of lightning, you may want to stay away from the Catatumbo River in Venezuela. Lightning strikes Lake Maracaibo, where the river ends, 1.2 million times a year. That’s 28 lightning strikes every minute. The 2014 Guinness Book of World Records listed Venezuela for the most lightning strikes per hour.
While plenty of theories for Catatumbo Lightning have appeared over the years, scientists now believe that the region’s unique wind and topography generate the storms. Not only does the area produce the most ozone in the world, but it also collides cold and warm air, resulting in more thunderstorms.
Russian Light Pillars Rise From The Earth
If you were to hike through Russia during subzero temperatures, you might perceive rows upon rows of light towers, stretching hundreds of feet high and reflecting various colors. Although they have an alien-like quality, this phenomenon is entirely natural.
The lights are an optical illusion that occurs when flat, hexagonal ice crystals in clouds shine. Unlike a light beam, light pillars aren’t actually located near their source, but appear like they from a distance. Similar illusions can come from the sun, such as solar light pillars rising from the desert in the southern United States.
Crystals Spike Up A Cave
A cave in Naica, Mexico, contains giant selenite crystals that dart across the entire 980 ft (300 m) cave. These crystals are some of the largest ever found, stretching out to 40 ft (12 m) in length. The Cave of Crystals, or Giant Crystal Cave, was discovered because it connects to the Naica Mine.
The cave sits above an underground magma chamber, which heats groundwater that crystallizes hydrated sulfate gypsum over at least 500,000 years. Explorers would venture into the cave more if it weren’t 136°F (58°C) and had 99% humidity.
Over 100 Million Crabs Swarm An Island
Every year, 120 million red crabs cover the ground of Christmas Island, Australia. These five-inch-long crabs, which are all slightly larger than a teacup, tumble onto the Australian shoreline to mate. Christmas Island Red Crabs are unique to this region and arrive in such massive numbers that the town has to close roadways and cliffs.
Depending on the lunar schedule, red crabs arrive either in November or October, during the island’s wet season. The females lay eggs as the high tide turns, and the eggs hatch almost immediately. The new larvae lounge around the sea for a month before breaching.
The Rock Tree That Defies Gravity
In the Sioli Desert of Bolivia, a rock formation that seems to defy logic stands 4,000 meters above sea level. It looks like a dead tree made of petrified wood, but it’s actually a rock. The Rock Tree, or Árbol de Piedra, is a 23-foot high (7 m) unique tourist attraction.
The Rock Tree came from volcanic formation several thousand years ago. It was polished into its shape by the region’s eternal winds and sand. You can see volcanic rock all over the desert, which are all protected under the Eduardo Avaroa National Park.
Naturally-Sculptured Rock Spheres
On the Koekohe Beach of New Zealand, giant art projects dot the shoreline. Except, they aren’t sculptures: They’re naturally-molded giant rock spheres. The Moeraki Boulders range from 5 ft to 7 ft high (1.5 m to 2 m), and pepper the beaches, cliffs, and shoreline throughout Koekohe.
The boulders are made of mud, clay, and fine silt, and are held together by calcite. They originally coalesced on the sea floor 60 million years ago, and many start on the cliffside before plummeting to the shore. You’ll want to watch your head, though, since each boulder weighs several tons!
The Earth’s Eye
Journey to the Sahara Desert’s Adrar Plateau, and you’ll see an eye-shaped formation that’s visible from space. The “Eye of the Sahara,” otherwise known as the Richat Structure, is a 25-mile-wide elliptical dome carved out of sandstone.
Geologists believe that the 100-million-year-old dome formed from the supercontinent Pangaea pulling apart. Several types of indigenous volcanic rocks make up the eye, which leads scientists to theorize that volcanic activity lifted the ground, and water erosion (which used to cover most deserts) carved out the rest.