Fata Morgana may sound like an interesting name belonging to a mystical woman, but it's not. It's a kind of mirage. A complex, superior mirage. Even as I describe it, it still sounds like it could be a woman and with good reason. The name is derived from Fata, latin for fairy and Morgana for the the fairy shape shifting half-sister of King Arthur, Morgan Le Fay. It was thought that Fata Morgana mirages resembled fairy castles, or how one would imagine them to appear.
Pictured above, shape shifting fairy sister of King Arthur, Morgana le Fay. "Fay" also means fairy. So calling it Fata Morgana is kinda redundant
Fata Morgana are so common you probably saw one today if you were out driving around. But first let's discuss what inferior and superior mirages are all about. It has to do with where the mirage appears. Inferior mirage is when the image is seen under the real object and superior mirage is when the image appears over the real object. Which is why Fata Morgana mirages tend to cause a bit of a furor - when they're being superior, if you will - in that their images appear to be floating above where they ought to be. If that happens on the ocean, then you get stories like the Flying Dutchman legend. The Flying Dutchman is the cursed captain of a ghost ship, or the actual ghost ship some say, who is doomed to sail the oceans for eternity. You can get more of the story here.
|A portrait of the Flying Dutchman, who I assume is on this boat |
somewhere heading to places unknown on a quest to freak people out
Really, how could you blame the folks a few hundred years ago for thinking it was a ghost ship if they saw this...
I'm sure it would surprise the most secular among us today.
It can also become an inferior mirage and revert back to superior. Even by today's enlightened standards a fata morgana, even when you know what they mean, are ethereal and mysterious. Which is what makes them really cool. Fata Morgana are most often seen nearer the poles. The Flying Dutchman's ship was often reported near the Cape of Good Hope, ironically named as it was more often stormy, inhospitable to mariners and apparently infected with ghost ships.
Fata Morgana floating above the water, like the Flying Dutchman, are often harbingers of storms because the conditions conducive to producing one, are caused by incoming storms.
We see evidence of fata morgana every time we drive down the road in hot weather. It's when the road up ahead looks like water to the point that vehicles above that point in the road are reflected in the 'water'.
Kind of amazing even when you know why it's happening.