In Photos: Incredible Photos of Rare Earth Events
Some of the most beautiful sights in nature are unfortunately also the most rare. For example, once a year, the sun hits Horsetail Falls in Yosemite National Park at just the right angle to make the entire waterfall look like it’s on fire. And for two weeks each spring, fireflies light up the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a stunningly luminous mating ritual. And don’t even get us started on fire rainbows!
Since the chances of you seeing some of the most breathtaking events on planet Earth are so rare, we’re here to help ease your curiosity.
Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees; Oahu, Hawaii
This technicolor tree trunk isn’t some avant garde art display. It’s totally au natural. These eucalyptus trees are only native to areas with moist tropical settings—places like New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Philippines, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden.
When the rainbow eucalyptus tree is grown outside of these settings, it grows much shorter, and the bark is far less vividly colorful. So, to truly get the full Pollock experience, so to speak, you’ll have to book a flight to somewhere in the Pacific. (The above tree is in Oahu, Hawaii.)
Penitentes; Andes Mountains, South America
Penitentes are found only on high-altitude glaciers—where the sun is bright, the temperature cold, and the dew point below freezing. (This photo, for instance, was taken on a glacial ridge in the Andes Mountains.)
These spiky sculptures form thanks to a process called sublimation—when the sun’s rays turn ice into water vapor without melting it first, entirely skipping the liquid stage of the solid-to-gas evaporation process.
If all that sounds otherworldly to you, well, it might be. According to the American Institute of Physics, some scientists think that penitentes could be found on Europa, one of the moons circling Jupiter!
Frozen Bubbles; Abraham Lake, Canada
These picturesque frozen bubbles are most famously found in Lake Abraham, an artificial reservoir just north of Banff National Park, in Alberta, Canada. They’re made up of methane, a flammable gas that forms in bodies of water when dead organic matter worms its way in.
Every winter, so-called “bubble hunters” flock to the lake to get a glimpse of the frozen pockets. Don’t worry, though, because walking on the surface is totally safe: In mid-winter, the ice can apparently be as thick as two feet.
The Spotted Lake; Osoyoos, Canada
The Spotted Lake is a polka-dotted body of water in the desert of British Columbia in Canada. Since the lake contains a large number of concentrated minerals, when the warm desert climate causes the water to evaporate, mineral pockets are left behind as colorful spots.
Being the only lake of its kind in the world, you’ll have to travel to Osoyoos, Canada, if you want to see it in person—and you’ll have to do so during summer, when temperatures are in the right condition.
Sun Dog; Trosa, Sweden.
Sun dogs are faithful companions to the actual sun, flanking either side within a 22 degree halo. These mock suns are caused by the refraction of sunlight through hexagonal ice crystals in cirrus clouds. They tend to be most visible when the sun is low on the horizon, and most common during the winter.
As seen in this photo from Trosa, Sweden, many sun dogs tend to appear with an ever-so-slight red tint.
Nacreous Clouds; York, England
If you ever get a chance to see extremely rare nacreous clouds in person, in all their pearl-like beauty, be sure to whip out your camera—stat.
These iridescent clouds form when stratosphere temperatures fall below the ice frost point, so they’re only usually seen in places like Antarctica or Scandinavia.
Giant’s Causeway; Country Antrim, Northern Ireland
When visiting the Giant’s Causeway, in Northern Ireland, you can see nearly 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, formed in hexagonal blocks along the coast.
The unusual landscape was caused by volcanic activity an estimated 60 million years ago. Because of its photogenic uniqueness, the area is a huge tourist attraction and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Fire Rainbows; Tenaya Lake, California
Despite the name “fire rainbows,” this phenomenon has nothing to do with rainbows or fire. Basically, a lot of highly specific factors have to occur before you can see a fire rainbow, scientifically known as circumhorizontal arcs.
These rainbow-reminiscent clouds only appear when the sun is higher than 58 degrees above the horizon and the resulting light passes through high-altitude cirrus clouds made up of hexagonal plate ice crystals, giving the sky a rainbow color. Thankfully, there are photos of this event in all its glory.
Desert Rose; Saraha Desert, Africa
This formation of crystal clusters may not be the type of rose you’re looking to gift on Valentine’s Day, but that doesn’t make it any less special.
The desert rose, sometimes called a sand rose, pops up in desert regions—like the Sahara, where this particular formation was photographed. The rose forms via precipitation containing trapped sand particles, most commonly found in gypsum minerals.
Pink Sand Beaches; Horseshoe Bay Beach, Bermuda
A beautiful sand beach is one thing. But a pink sand beach? Well, that seems geologically designed for the Instagram era.
So, what causes the pink hue? According to the National Ocean Service, the pink sand beaches in Bermuda form naturally through foraminifera, a microscopic organism that has a a reddish-pink shell. When foraminifera die, their shells wash ashore, mixing their hues with the sand to form the pink tint.
Total Solar Eclipse; Stanley, Idaho
Do you remember what you were doing on August 21, 2017? If you were like most people in the United States, you were probably attempting to view the total solar eclipse.
Unlike other solar eclipses, a total solar eclipse, in which the moon completely covers the surface of the sun, is incredibly rare. They typically only take place every hundred years or so, depending on where you live, according to NASA.
Horsetail Falls; Yosemite National Park, California
Once a year, around the second week of February, the setting sun in Yosemite National Park hits Horsetail Falls at just the right angle—and makes the waterfall look more like a deluge of fire than water.
And as you might expect, catching this rare scene on film has become incredibly popular: Recently, park rangers with Yosemite had to place restrictions on where and when visitors could snap photos of the falls.