What Planet is This?

29 Aug 2005

The Hovering Halligen

Just off of the Schleswig-Holstein coast in Germany lie a series of ten islands called the Halligen. Their name comes from the Celtic for salt, hal, and is the plural of Hallig, the word for each individual isle. The islands are very low lying, and some have been lost to the sea over time whilst others have been fused together by sediment deposits. They are inhabited, and their buildings are constructed on warfts, which are low man-made hillocks. About 350 people live there overall. Each Hallig is about 3–6 miles from its neighbours, which makes conditions for viewing inferior mirages excellent.

In an inferior mirage, an inverted image is shown below the original. When this effect occurs at the Halligen, it often has the consequence of making the islands appear to float in the air. German photographer Michael Engler has been recording this phenomenon for decades. Not much of his work is online, but there's one photograph of a floating Hallig from a magazine of 1993, and another (now removed) in a German article about mirages. There's also a wonderful picture of the Schulwarft on the hovering Nordstrandischmoor Hallig, fig. 9 in an optics paper by Eberhard Tränkle.

Superior mirages, on the other hand, show inverted and upright images above the original. In fact, though mirages are generally divided into inferior and superior, there are many more feasible subdivisions. Andrew Young's introduction to mirages shows why and has some further categories such as the Nachspiegelung and mock mirage, but it's obvious that more categories or a better terminology overall are needed.

One of the further subdivisions of mirage is the superior Fata Morgana. The effect gets its name from the shapeshifting Morgan le Fay, who was the half-sister of King Arthur, as depicted in a famous 1864 painting by Sandys. The Fata Morgana can make distant lands visible, elongating cliffs and towns, and making them appear to be distant fairylands. In Iceland, Fata Morgana or the arctic mirage is known as the hillingar. On 17th July 1939, Capt. Robert A. Bartlett observed the Snæfells Jökull glacier in Iceland from the sea mid-way between Iceland and Greenland, at a distance of 335–350 miles. A mirage had bent the light so far around the horizon that he was able to see over 240 miles further than normal, making it the furthest land sighting by a mirage so far recorded.

Other mirage types include green flashes, the Fata Bromosa, and Novaya Zemlya effect. These names are actually related to the kind of thing appearing in the mirage, and green flashes for example can be formed in four different ways. The Fata Bromosa is a mirage of fog, and the Novaya Zemlya effect is an arctic mirage of the sun that makes it visible many days before it's due to rise.

It has been conjectured by W.H. Lehn and others that mirages could be the basis of sundry historical discoveries and myths. Iceland may be visible from the Faroe Islands roughly 260 miles away, for example, through the arctic mirage. There are also many reported phantom towns, armies, ships, and so on. In Chapter 31 of New Lands, Charles Fort records that "upon Aug. 2, 1908, at Ballyconneely, Connemara coast of Ireland, was seen a phantom city of different-sized houses, in different styles of architecture; visible three hours." Of course there is a danger of overascribing too, but mirages are a universal and common phenomenon that must form at least a part of our history.

Cite: Palmer, S.B. (2005). "The Hovering Halligen", in: What Planet is This?
Archival URI: http://inamidst.com/notes/halligen


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