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9 famous mirages that play tricks on the eyes

By: Josh Lew on March 24, 2017, 8:54 a.m.
Desert mirage

Photo: PRILL/Shutterstock

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Visual deception

Mirages are nature's version of optical illusions. Variables like the path of light particles, the curvature of the Earth and air temperature can create false images that the eye is convinced are real. Mirages are the subject of many legends. So-called Fata Morganas, which make land and ships appear like they are floating in the air above the sea, have been unnerving sailors for centuries, while mirages involving oases have given false hope to many thirsty desert travelers.

Scientifically, most mirages can be explained by the fact that photons (particles of light) move faster through warm air than through cooler air because hot air is not as dense, according to Scientific American. This is why mirages are common in deserts, oceans and other places with hot or extremely varied temperatures.

Here are nine different types of mirages, and a look at how, why and where they occur.