When conditions are just right, you can look out on the horizon and see something spectacular. I like to call them the "Phantom Skylines" of the Texas panhandle.

It's when you're looking at the horizon and see what looks like a major city skyline, knowing that there isn't one in that direction.

A friend of mine and I were discussing this over the weekend, so I decided to dig a little to see what it is that we're all seeing. I know that we can't be the only ones to ever experience this.

This is as close as I could find on YouTube to use as an example:

To put it simply, it's an optical illusion caused by atmospheric conditions. I spent a lot of time reading through articles and papers on molecules, light rays, refraction, inversion, and I'll just leave it at...it's an optical illusion caused by nature.

One of the explanations behind the phenomena is looming. Looming happens when atmospheric conditions cause objects that are usually below the horizon to be seen.

For those who have seen "skyscrapers" on the panhandle horizon, it is very likely that you're seeing an effect called towering. This is when the size of an object gets distorted and it's made to seem taller than it really is.

While I was digging, I came across some other interesting phenomena that are caused by atmospheric conditions and where you're looking.

One of the most interesting ones is the superior mirage. It's very rare to see, and it makes it look like things are floating that shouldn't be. A boat, for instance, wouldn't normally float. It does in this photo though.

An extreme version of these is the Fata Morgana. These "mirages" have caused explorers to go hundreds of miles chasing after islands that don't exist. Mountain ranges have been discovered and named, only to find out they didn't really exist. Some even point to Fata Morgana mirages as the culprit behind some UFO sightings.

Here's a link to a story about the Lake Michigan Mirage where people were able to see Chicago across Lake Michigan. It does a good job of breaking down the science.

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