Optical phenomena

Optical phenomena are any observable events that result from the interaction of light and matter. See also list of optical topics and optics. A mirage is an example of an optical phenomenon.

Common optical phenomena are often due to the interaction of light from the sun or moon with the atmosphere, clouds, water, dust, and other particulates. One common example is the rainbow, when light from the sun is reflected and refracted by water droplets. Some, such as the green ray, are so rare they are sometimes thought to be mythical.[1] Others, such as Fata Morganas, are commonplace in favored locations.

Other phenomena are simply interesting aspects of optics, or optical effects. For instance, the colors generated by a prism are often shown in classrooms.


Optical phenomena include those arising from the optical properties of the atmosphere; the rest of nature (other phenomena); of objects, whether natural or human-made (optical effects); and of our eyes (Entoptic phenomena). Also listed here are unexplained phenomena that could have an optical explanation and "optical illusions" for which optical explanations have been excluded.

There are many phenomena that result from either the particle or the wave nature of light. Some are quite subtle and observable only by precise measurement using scientific instruments. One famous observation is of the bending of light from a star by the Sun observed during a solar eclipse. This demonstrates that space is curved, as the theory of relativity predicts.

Atmospheric optical phenomena

Other optical phenomena

Optical effects

Entoptic phenomena

Optical illusions

  • The unusually large size of the Moon as it rises and sets, the moon illusion
  • The shape of the sky, the sky bowl

Unexplained phenomena

Some phenomena are yet to be conclusively explained and may possibly be some form of optical phenomena. Some consider many of these "mysteries" to simply be local tourist attractions that are not worthy of thorough investigation.[3]


  1. "Green Rays". mintaka.sdsu.edu.
  2. "Belt of Venus over Cerro Paranal". Picture of the Week. ESO. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  3. "Welcome to Phenomenon! Your guide through the mysterious and unexplained". www.stateoftheart.nl.
  4. Philip Mantle. "The Hessdalen Lights". Archived from the original on 4 April 2005. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  5. "UQ scientist unlocks secret of Min Min lights".
  6. "Big Thicket National Preserve Virtual Field Trip". Archived from the original on 4 March 2005.
  7. Gagliardi, Jason (17 November 2002). "Behind the Secret of the Naga's Fire" via www.time.com.

Further reading

  • Thomas D. Rossing and Christopher J. Chiaverina, Light Science: Physics and the Visual Arts, Springer, New York, 1999, hardback, ISBN 0-387-98827-0
  • Robert Greenler, Rainbows, Halos, and Glories, Elton-Wolf Publishing, 1999, hardback, ISBN 0-89716-926-3
  • Polarized Light in Nature, G. P. Können, Translated by G. A. Beerling, Cambridge University Press, 1985, hardcover, ISBN 0-521-25862-6
  • M.G.J. Minnaert, Light and Color in the Outdoors, ISBN 0-387-97935-2
  • John Naylor "Out of the Blue: A 24-hour Skywatcher's Guide", CUP, 2002, ISBN 0-521-80925-8
  • Abenteuer im Erdschatten (German).
  • The Marine Observers' Log
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