Mind-Bending Optical Illusions You Can Only Find In Nature

29 Jul 2014 Nature
Mind-Bending Optical Illusions You Can Only Find In Nature

Nature is amazing, these Mind-Bending optical illusions will prove it to you.

Mauritius Under-Waterfall

 Mauritius Under-Waterfall

This illusion is created by sand deposits stretching along the coast, making it look as though there is a massive crevasse and underwater waterfall on the edge of Mauritius.

Salar De Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Salar De Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Emphasis on flat, there’s so little on the horizon to draw depth cues from at this famous dry lakebed, that they have become a hub for photography like this:

It also means that, even with a little rain, the whole lakebed becomes a giant mirror, and looks like this:

Baja California River Tree

 Baja California River Tree

This picture of what looks like a dead tree in the snow is actually an aerial shot of a river snaking through the desert in Mexico’s Baja California.

Fata Morgana

 Fata Morgana

Possibly the craziest type of mirage, a Fata Morgana takes objects from the horizon and projects them onto the sky. Large ships, a city skyline, or mountain range appear through thermal inversion, which bends light rays and stacks the object several times over. The result is a massive, shifting mirage of Saturday morning cartoon proportions.

Brocken Specter, Germany:

 Brocken Specter, Germany

This wild natural occurrence is actually the result of the sun’s reflection, and an observer’s shadow, projected on a cloud or some fog. The result is a haloed, transparent being that appears at low-altitude. The name comes from the Brocken peak of the Harz Mountains in Germany, where the phenomenon was first discovered.

Green Flash

Green Flash

Yes it’s real, but it’s not signifying the return of a soul from Davey Jones’ locker. The green flash is the product of refracted light on the horizon enhanced by a mirage (though to be honest, I don’t fully understand the science behind why it happens).

“Apache Head,” France

Apache Head,France

This rock formation in Ebihens, France exploits our perceptual system’s inclination towards seeing familiar shapes (especially faces) in objects. In fact, we have an entire region of our brains (the Fusiform Face Area) dedicated to identifying and recognizing faces. Though there are a number of formations out there that exploit this region, this one seemed to be the most striking.

Painted Scene, Namibia

Painted Scene, Namibia

Nope, not a painting. In the foreground, dead trees and the earth eclipsed by the setting sun. In the background, the red dunes rocky dunes of West African Namibia. Shot by Frans Landing by NatGeo, the intense juxtaposition and placement of color seems unnatural, and therefore artificial at first glance.

Wave Rock Formation, Arizona

 Wave Rock Formation, Arizona

This depth-perception-shattering formation (known as The Wave, in the Coyote Buttes of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument) in Arizona, is the product of layers of sedimentary rock unevenly eroded away over millions of years.

Lake Reflections

Lake Reflections

This place looks like something straight out of Tim Burton’s Big Fish. When viewed at an oblique angle, still pools of water become mirrors, inverting and reflecting objects over the horizon to create a continuous unnatural image (like these circular trees which appear to be floating in the sky).

Glen Canyon, Utah

 Glen Canyon, Utah

This award-winning shot looks like a man straying dangerously close to the edge of a cliff, but is actually just a guy walking along a river bank inside the canyon.

The Colorado River

The Colorado River

When I first saw this image, I thought someone took a picture of a snaking mountain range and MS Paint-ed all the peaks poorly with a greenish grey line. Then, I realized it was a real photo of a river, which looks like it’s flowing across the tops of a single long mountain. In fact, it’s just an aerial shot of the Colorado River, flipped upside down, and messing with our natural ability to draw information from shading cues.

"The Loop" of the Colorado River in Utah's Canyonlands, viewed from an angle as opposed to directly above.

Tornado of Fire, Spain

Tornado of Fire, Spain

This striking image does not capture a rare fire tornado (which do happen, actually), but instead mining waste flowing down the Rio Tinto in Spain.

The original image. As a byproduct of centuries of mining in the region, the Rio Tinto has become highly acidic, and the bright red streaking seen here comes from large amounts of iron and heavy metals dissolved in the water.

Atlantic Road, Norway

Atlantic Road, Norway

The bridge in this picture is actually very much complete, and driving over it won’t land you smack dab in that river. Thanks to the curvature of the Earth, and the fact that the bridge actually snakes around in as it descends, it looks like it leads nowhere from this vantage point.

Horsetail Firefall, Yosemite

Horsetail Firefall, Yosemite

>Every year in February, if the weather is just right and there is enough melted snow, the setting sun will illuminate the incredible 2,000 foot drop of Horsetail Falls in Yosemite National Park giving it the illusion of fire or flowing lava pouring out over the cliff’s edge.

Sun Dogs

 Sun Dogs

This incredibly cool phenomenon occurs when light passes through ice crystals in the atmosphere, causing both a halo (sometimes visible) and the appearance of 3 or more suns in the sky.

The Moon Illusion

The Moon Illusion

Have you ever noticed that when the moon is on the horizon, it looks enormous, but when it’s at its zenith in the sky, it seems tiny? If you think about it, that doesn’t really make a lot of sense: How can something that stays equidistant from the Earth seem to grow and shrink every night? After a lot of wrestling with this problem by science, psychology and philosophy, the most plausible cause of this illusion is the moon’s size relative to references in the environment. The moon looks huge on the horizon near buildings we know are big, but with no references in the vast night sky it seems much smaller comparatively, like in the Ebinghaus illusion below:

Here, the center circles appear to be two different sizes based on the surrounding reference circles. They are actually the exact same size.

Fallstreak hole

Fallstreak hole

Nope, not the gateway to heaven, but instead the combination of an incredibly rare cloud formation (referred to as “fallstreak” or “hole punch” clouds) and sunlight blocked out by the remaining cloud cover. Though we still don’t quite know what causes hole punch clouds (which appear as sheets of clouds with a hole in them), the closest we can guess is that a chain reaction occurs inside the region that causes the cloud to evaporate, leaving a hole.

Zebra Illusion

Zebra Illusion

Look at a pack of zebras and you’ll likely do a double-take. The striping disrupts our ability to follow continuity of objects and detect their edges, giving rise to two-headed and multi-bodied illusions.

Spider’s web

Spider%u2019s web

This incredible shot looks like an epicly captured instant of rain suspended in space, until you look a little closer and realize that each of those droplets are suspended beautifully between sections of a spider’s web.

Undulatus asperatus, Plains of the USA

Undulatus asperatus, Plains of the USA

Looking up at the newest recognized cloud formation (Undulatus asperatus), you might feel like you’re underwater, in a Van Gogh painting, or that the Earth’s been flipped upside down. Translating to “rough wave,” this kind of cloud formation is both incredibly rare, as well as barely researched, meaning we don’t really know very much about it.

This anteater

 This anteater

There is a lot going on in this photo. Not only does the coloration of this anteater’s front legs make it look like a panda worked his way into the shot, but the anteater’s young is almost completely camouflaged while clinging to its back, meaning (if you’re like me) you probably saw something there that wasn’t, and completely missed something that was.

Jacob’s Well, Wimberly, Texas

 Jacob%u2019s Well, Wimberly, Texas

At first, I thought this was the first photo of a series detailing a horrific event in which children, believing they could fly, jumped down into a cave. Then I realized it was actually just a 3 foot drop into Jacob’s Well, a 30-foot deep spring that’s a popular swimming and diving spot in Texas.

The Badlands Guardian, Alberta, Canada

The Badlands Guardian, Alberta, Canada

Playing on our tendency to see faces when the composition of features seems right, this is one of the largest illusions in the world. First discovered using Google Earth, the Badlands Guardian might be the most convincing terrestrial version of the “man on the moon” ever discovered.

Atlas Moth, Southeast Asia

Atlas Moth, Southeast Asia

While some animals are vibrantly colored, or puff up to make themselves look bigger to ward off would-be predators, the Atlas Moth knows a pair of snakes always have its back. With a total wing area up to 62 square inches, the Atlas moth would otherwise be the ideal dinner for a host of animals higher up on the food chain, were it not for the incredibly convincing pattern of coloration it uses for protection. And as you can see, it works really well.

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