In Australia, mysterious snake-shaped clouds baffle scientists

In Australia, it is possible to observe one of the world’s rarest meteorological phenomena: astonishing snake-shaped clouds, bearing the name of “morning glory”. Scientists still struggle to explain the mechanisms behind their formation.

Ornithorynques, gigantic rock formations… It is well known: Australia is home to many amazing sights. Here is a new one: the “morning glories”, surprising clouds with a serpentine appearance. 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.

These unusual formations can extend for more than 500 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 peak pressure and powerful sea winds. In these circumstances, the air at the front of the cloud rises rapidly while the one at the rear goes down, causing the cloud to “roll” to adopt a cylindrical shape.

“Long and 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.”

The morning glories can indeed move at a speed of 10 to 20 meters per second, or about 60 kilometers per hour. All the while, new clouds are continually formed at the front of the structure while those at the back are dissipated. If the specific criteria leading to their formation remain a mystery, these clouds remain an inescapable spectacle and make the happiness of hang gliders who sail on their curves.

Carl Frantz

Polyglot, humanitarian, Carl was born in Germany but raised in the USA. He writes mostly on tech, science and culture.