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By Varun Bisht

Nature has never failed to amaze mankind with it’s mesmerising beauty. But amongst the pale canyons, deep rivers and mighty mountain ranges that traverse this Earth, one often forgets the bizarre phenomenon that take place on this planet, and the mesmerising scenes that they create, simply by deceiving our eyes.

One such queer spectacle can be seen in the frigid water of the Earth’s polar regions. Looming, as the effect is called is an optical illusion that makes objects in these cold seas seem elevated from their actual position, giving the effect of them levitating above the water. But why does this happen? What unseen power grants these objects the gift of flight in the eyes of the observer? The laws of refraction are responsible for such sorcery. Refraction, in simple terms, is the bending of light as it moves across regions of different density. The difference in density is what determines the angle by which the light refracts. the path these light rays follow help us to see the world around us as it is, therefore, a change in the density of your surroundings, would lead you to see objects as either distorted, or bent along the refracted rays that illuminate them, much like a pencil in a glass of water, or a coin resting at the bottom of a pool. It is these fundamental concepts that create astounding feats of levitation.

While the  subzero temperatures of the sea are successful in cooling  the air directly above them, the air in the higher reaches of the atmosphere is relatively warmer than the frigid air beneath it.  As the sun rays from the ship pass from the cold layer (a denser medium than the warmer air above it), they bend downwards as they cross into the warmer air above. When these bent rays are retraced, they form an image higher than the actual object, (which remains invisible) as the diagram elucidates.

But looming does a lot more than grant ships the gift of flight. The optical illusion is so powerful that it can sometimes remould the very landscape of the poles. In fact, the first cartographers charted the entire coastline of Antarctica incorrectly because they had been elevated from their original positions. It is fascinating to see how even deception finds its place amongst the beauty this world has to offer.

Rohil Bahl