12 Of The Most Awe-Inspiring Optical Illusions From Around The World

You won’t believe your eyes, but it’s all real. See how Dynamic Perspective on the Amazon Fire Phone lets you tilt, auto-scroll, swivel, and peek to navigate menus and access shortcuts with one hand.

1. Brocken Spectre

keiichiro shikano / CC BY http://2.0 / Flickr: k16

Named after a mountaintop in Germany, this occurs when you’re higher than fog or clouds below that capture your spooky outline.

2. Heiligenschein

Neil Armstrong / Public Domain / commons.wikimedia.org

From the German word for “halo,” this phenomenon makes it look like there’s a halo around the viewer’s head when their shadow lands on dewy surfaces like lawns or dry surfaces like the moon.

3. The Aurora Borealis and Australis

The northern and southern lights are a delightful byproduct of solar wind colliding with the earth’s atmosphere.

4. Fata Morgana

fdecomite / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr: fdecomite

Brocken Inaglory / CC BY-SA http://3.0 / en.wikipedia.org


Fata Morgana occurs in deserts, in the Antarctic, and out at sea, and is likely the source of the Flying Dutchman myth. Cold air trapped under hot air projects multiple versions of the same image on top of itself so your eyes receive one severely distorted image.

5. Green Flash

Kai Schreibert / CC BY-SA http://2.0 / Flickr: genista

This phenomenon is generally clearest at sunset over water, but the effect, similar to Fata Morgana, occurs when the last spectrum of color to reach your eyes through the atmosphere is a burst of green.

6. Phantom Suns

NOAA, Lieutenant (http://j.g.) Cindy McFee, NOAA Corps / public domain / en.wikipedia.org

Also known colloquially as sun dogs and scientifically as parhelia, it’s not Star Wars predicting our future so much as it is light bending through ice crystals until it looks like our sun has another two suns on either side.

7. Sea Sparkle

John White Photos / Moment Open / Getty Images

When disturbed by particularly rough seas or by crashing waves in parts of the Indian Ocean, some dinoflagellates emit light, making the water look like it’s glowing or sparkling.

8. Magnetic Hills

Rohit Ganda / CC BY http://2.0 / Flickr: rohitganda

This happens when the horizon is obscured so much that you can’t tell that you and your car are on a slope facing the opposite direction your surroundings seem to indicate.

9. Whiteout

Usually only occurring during winter or at the poles, snow or fog obscures the horizon to the point that nearly everything you can see is white — even if you’re a couple feet away from other people and objects.

10. Atmospheric Ghost Lights

ChattOconeeNF / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr: chattoconeenf

Ylem / public domain / en.wikipedia.org


Known as many things worldwide including will-o’-the-wisps, foxfire, and hinkypunks, these phenomena usually occur in marshes and bogs, and explanations range from bioluminescent fungi to outright fable.

11. Ball Lightning

Adam Baker / CC BY http://2.0 / Flickr: atbaker

For everything from UFOs and WWII’s Foo Fighters to supposed spirits and erratically moving skylights, most explanations amount to simple lightning or St. Elmo’s fire — natural phenomena that might be atmospherically distorted to appear to be moving faster than possible.

12. Impossible Objects

Nanimo / CC BY http://2.0 / Flickr: nanimo

Nanimo / CC BY http://2.0 / Flickr: nanimo


These are traditionally man-made since they add a third dimension to two-dimensional objects: for example, the triangle sculpture on the left should not be able to twist like that, but the close examination (on the right) proves it truly can’t twist like that. Other popular impossible objects include blivets and Penrose stairs.

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