Fata Morgana: Strange Mirages at Sea
“Jesuit Priests aren’t especially known for their heavy drug u/se, but it we’re to believe the account of Father Domenico Giardina, he was tripping pretty hard. Looking out over the sea from Messina, Sicily, Giardina saw “a city all floating in the air, and so measureless and so splendid, so adorned with magnificent buildings, all of which was found on a base of a luminous crystal.” The metropolis suddenly transformed into a garden, and next a forest. And then in a flash it all descended into chaos. Huge armies sprang forth, as did the towns they had laid waste to, before the whole mess disappeared.
Father Giardina, you see, was high on life. (Though scholars believe he actually borrowed his “sighting” from another observer.)1 The “great and marvelous theater” he claimed to have witnessed was the mysterious fata morgana, an incredibly complex mirage that has historically both fascinated and scared the hell out of sailors and landlubbers alike. Whether it be the work of necromancers or fairies or a god, few phenomena have captivated humankind quite so thoroughly as fata morgana.
In the case of a fata morgana mirage, light reflecting from a distant object such as a ship is bent downward as it passes through the colder, denser air near the surface of the ocean (or sometimes cold land, particularly ice). But your brain places the object where it would be if the light came to you in a straight path—higher than it actually is. This bending effect can even work with the curvature of the Earth if conditions are just right, which is why some fata morgana images can actually be refracted cities and ships from beyond the horizon.
The legends of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere include tales of the sorceress Morgan le Fay, a powerful fairy known to live in the sea who cast spells to lure sailors to their deaths. La Fata Morgana, “the fairy Morgan,” is her Italian name.”
-Wired, The Anchorage News
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