It looked like a portal to a whimsical parallel universe.
The internet was left in shock over a “rainbow cloud” that emerged over a city in China like some interdimensional phenomenon. A clip of the meteorological anomaly amassed more than 28 million views with gawkers wondering what could have caused it, Jam Press reported.
In the awe-inspiring footage, shot in Haikou city, Hainan, and posted on Aug. 26, the resplendent circle can be seen hovering over a dark cloud like some sort of cosmic shaved ice.
As it turns out, the extraterrestrial-seeming spectacle is actually a pileus or scarf cloud, smooth clouds that form atop a growing cumulus — dense, puffy and white — cloud due to updrafts from a thunderstorm, per Jam Press.
“The rapidly rising air in the updraft of a towering cumulus pushes against the cooler air above it, condensing the moisture right along the top of the updraft,” the Weather Network described. “The end result is a graceful pileus donning its neighboring cloud like a cap.”
The rainbow halo is actually an atmospheric optical phenomenon called cloud iridescence. This occurs when “water droplets or ice crystals in the cloud diffract the light around the outside of the droplet, as opposed to bending the light through it,” according to Weather Channel meteorologist Jen Carfagno.
She explained to CBS News that “the colors of the spectrum are not as neat and organized in iridescence as in a rainbow,” adding that “cloud iridescence reminds me of pixie dust or unicorn sprinkles.”
The internet was awestruck by the rainbow cloud.
“That is a real atmospheric event as unbelievable as it seems,” marveled one armchair meteorologist on Twitter. “Mother nature stunner!”
Closer to home, a similar colorful curiosity — a rare meteorological event known as a “fire rainbow” — appeared over the Jersey Shore in 2019, providing a spectacular scene for beachgoers.
The fiery phenomenon is created by light passing through thin and wispy cirrus clouds and being refracted.
“These can only form with high cirrus clouds, because they are made out of purely ice crystals,” explained AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dave Samuhel. “However, they can be seen farther north in the summer, since the sun angle is higher. They are 46 degrees from the sun, about twice as far as the more typical halo that is 22 degrees from the sun.”
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