Mila Zinkova

The mirage, complete with a sunspot, appeared in fiery grandeur over the Pacific Ocean.

Seeing this incandescent mushroom cloud over the Pacific, one might think a nuclear sub had accidentally exploded, a shockwave only seconds away from pounding the coast. But in reality it’s the everyday sun, captured in weird glory (along with a nifty Easter egg) by San Francisco resident Mila Zinkova.

The photographer/computer programmer witnessed the seemingly distorted star on Saturday evening near Ocean Beach. She used the video function of a point-and-shoot Canon to record this surreal sunset:

“I like to photograph mirages of the sun and terrestrial objects like distant land and ships,” Zinkova emails. “Once I even photographed a mirage of a setting comet.” If you look closely, you’ll notice something equally fascinating about this footage—the presence of AR2529, a heart-shaped sunspot that recently belched out a tremendous flare that disrupted radio communications on earth.

Over at the always-delightful Spaceweather, atmospheric-optics pro Les Cowley gives the lowdown on the illusion:

“Each sunspot on Mila’s picture is a mini mirage. The California Coast is famous for its temperature inversions. Air cooled by the offshore ocean current lies beneath warm air from inland. Sunset sunlight between the layers bends and splits into three mirage images. Two sun slices descend and one upside-down one rises. Nature is not always so simple though. In the case of Mila’s sunset, there were multiple small inversion layers. Each inversion layer sliced up the sun like the corrugations of a Chinese lantern. If the air were steady enough we might see that some of the heart shaped sunspots were upside down.”

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of a closed street in St. Louis
    Equity

    The Curious Tale of the St. Louis Street Barriers

    Thanks to an '80s mania for traffic calming, the St. Louis grid is broken by hundreds of bollards and cul-de-sacs. Critics say it’s time to get rid of them.

  2. A young girl winces from the sting as she receives the polio vaccine in 1954.
    Life

    How Mandatory Vaccination Fueled the Anti-Vaxxer Movement

    To better understand the controversy over New York’s measles outbreak, you have to go back to the late 19th century.

  3. People eat and drink coffee inside a small coffeehouse.
    Life

    Gentrification Is Hurting Kuala Lumpur's Iconic Coffee Shops

    Traditional kopitiams, which serve sweetened coffee in no-frills surroundings, are a part of Malaysian national identity, but their survival is precarious.

  4. Design

    A New Plan to Correct a Historic Mistake in Pittsburgh

    A Bjarke Ingels Group-led plan from 2015 has given way to a more “practical” design for the Lower Hill District. Concerns over true affordable housing remain.

  5. Life

    How to Inspire Girls to Become Carpenters and Electricians

    Male-dominated trades like construction, plumbing, and welding can offer job security and decent pay. A camp aims to show girls these careers are for them, too.