Phenomena

Underwater Optical Illusions

On a hot day, it’s not unusual to catch a glimpse of a shimmering optical illusion over a hot road, but you probably wouldn’t expect to see the same thing 2,000 meters under the ocean. Yet that’s exactly what a team of scientists saw through the cameras of their unmanned submersible as it explored hydrothermal vents deep in the Pacific Ocean.

At these depths, the pressure is high enough that water can reach more than 350 degrees Celsius without boiling. The hot fluid from the vents rises and gets caught beneath mineral overhangs, forming a sort of upside-down pool. Since the index of refraction of the hot water is different than that of the colder surrounding water, we see a mirror-like surface at some viewing angles. Be sure to check out the whole video for more examples of the illusion. (Image and video credit: Schmidt Ocean; via Smithsonian; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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