The Night The Moon Almost Got Stuck In Lake Superior


The full moon seems glued to the horizon as it rises over Lake Superior last night. The weird distortions result from an inferior mirage.  Bob King

Lake Superior is never boring. Nor is there one moonrise quite like another. That’s why if the sky is clear and the moon is near full — and occasionally when it’s not — I make a point of watching it come up over the big lake. In a city thronged with trees it’s the only refuge for horizon-seekers.

Last night’s sky wasn’t promising. Scattered clouds scuttled about as a blanket of overcast climbed up from the western horizon. A strong wind hammered my back, but at the appointed moment, a tiny spot of bright light appeared in the distance and slowly grew into one of the weirdest moonrises I’ve ever witnessed.

Refraction flattened the rising moon into a cookie, but as it continued to rise, I watched in disbelief as the fluttering apparition morphed into a gumdrop and ultimately a water tower as if glued to the horizon and struggling to break free. When the final strands of light connecting the upper and lower images snapped, the moon hovered over what looks like its reflection in the water.

The familiar hot road mirage. The rear end of the car appears upside-down in the “pool” of water. Brocken Inaglory

That was no reflection. It’s a mirage! Then entire sequence show the progress of an inferior mirage. If you drive a car you’ve seen the same mirage on a hot summer day when the road ahead looks like it’s covered in water. The “water” is actually an image of the sky overhead, and if you look closely the next time you’re on the road you’ll also see an inverted image of the car in the water.

In an inferior a big difference in the air temperature at ground or water level compared to the air above causes some of the light rays leaving a distant object to be bent down and then up to your eyes, creating the illusion of a second image below it. Ludovica Lorenzelli / Density Design Research

What looks like water is really sky. When light from the sky passes from cooler air to the hot air immediately above the roadway, it’s bent upward and into your eyes, showing you what appear to be puddles. This mirage is common in deserts as well, leading thirsty hikers to think there’s water just beyond the hills.

When it comes to the sky the unexpected leads to a better understanding of one’s environment and opens our eyes to nature’s eternal creativity.

3 Responses

  1. Edward M Boll

    Evening planets getting more notable. Heading south west after my bus route last night, I saw Venus, from about half an hour to an hour after sunset. I saw Jupiter from 45-75 minutes after sunset. It was about that time, I stepped off of the bus, looked up and there was Saturn and Antares.

  2. Jenns

    Bob….comments you’ve made about the crater Tycho on the Moon has caused a stir among flat Earthers on YouTube when you said Tycho is able to be seen with the naked eye, they’re taking it as meaning the Moon is only 3,700 miles away from Earth as you’re not supposed to be able to see something that’s only 53 miles across(Tycho) on the Moon from Earth at the distance it’s stated to be……I’ve looked at the area where Tycho is a few times with just my eyes & never seen detail of the 53 mile across crater itself, although the bright highland & radials can be seen…..could you please clarify your comments.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Jenns,
      Yes, I don’t believe I said you can see the crater itself with the naked eye. Tycho and its rays together “expand” the diameter of the feature so it’s easily visible with the naked eye if you know where to look. I typically see Tycho as a bright concentration of light within the nimbus of its slightly fainter rays. Likewise, you can routinely see Copernicus, Aristarchus and Kepler not only because of their ray systems but also because they stand out in excellent contrast to the darker lunar seas.

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