In Australia Mysterious Snake-Shaped Clouds Have Been Leaving Scientists Bewildered

In Australia Mysterious Snake-Shaped Clouds Have Been Leaving Scientists Bewildered

In Australia, it is possible to observe one of the world's rarest meteorological phenomena; astonishing snake-shaped clouds, bearing the name ‘morning glory.’ Scientists are still struggling to explain the mechanisms behind their development.

Platypus, gigantic rock formations... It is a well known fact that Australia is home to many amazing sights. However here is a new one, ‘morning glories’ which are surprising clouds with serpentine appearances. They are among the rarest meteorological phenomena in the world and, to this day, scientists are still unaware of the precise mechanisms of their occurrence.

Snakes in the sky

These unusual formations can extend for over 600 miles in the sky, and are observable between September and October (during the Australian spring) in northern Australia, in the Gulf of Carpentaria. ‘What is the origin of these long and strange clouds?’ writes NASA on its APOD website. ‘Nobody is sure.’

Our knowledge about these clouds boils down to the conditions preceding their appearance. Their peculiar appearance could come from a sudden drop in temperature, a pressure spike and powerful sea winds. In these circumstances, the air at the front of the cloud rises rapidly while the air at the rear descends, causing the cloud to ‘roll’ to adopt a cylindrical shape.

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A celestial tsunami

‘Long, horizontal air tubes circulate when a cold, moist airflow encounters an inversion layer, an atmospheric zone where the air temperature increases atypically with altitude,’ writes NASA. ‘These tubes and the air around them can cause dangerous turbulence for aircraft when they are well defined.’

Morning glories can indeed move at a speed of 32 to 65 feet per second, or about 37 miles per hour. While new clouds are continually formed at the front those at the back are dissipated. Although the specific criteria leading to their formation remain a mystery, these clouds remain an incredible spectacle and please hang gliders who sail on their curves.

• Abbie Marshall
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