Is This Photo of Spiral Clouds Real or Fake?

Today we take a look at an image of an incredible spiral cloud formation with a description that the photo was taken in the Himalayas in 2009.

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The image is a digital creation.

First, let’s take a look at the description and the photo being circulated:

Cloud spiral in the sky. An Iridescent (Rainbow) Cloud in Himalaya. The phenomenon was observed early am 18 Oct 2009.

Deviant Art

This image was created by an artist known on Deviant Art as repawnd, and originally posted here in 2010 under the name “The Ruins” and is described as a “weather generator” in this fantasy photo. In the comments, the artist describes in detail how he achieved certain effects.

It should also be noted that the description of an iridescent rainbow often included with the photo does matches the spiral cloud image. There is no rainbow or iridescent effect in the fantasy image.

Real Image

The description above was apparently lifted from the real photo on the right, snapped by Oleg Bartunov, which is no less breathtaking. This photo includes the following description:

The phenomenon was observed early morning on October 18, 2009 on the path to Khumjung in the Himalayas. The mountain pictured is Thamserku (6623m).

Iridescent clouds are a diffraction phenomenon cause by small water droplets or small ice crystals individually scattering light. Larger ice crystals produce halos, which are a refraction phenomena rather than iridescence. Iridescence should similarly be distinguished from the refraction in larger raindrops that makes a rainbow. If parts of clouds have small droplets or crystals of similar size, their cumulative effect is seen as colors. The cloud must be optically thin, so that most rays encounter only a single droplet. Iridescence is therefore mostly seen at cloud edges or in semi-transparent clouds, and newly forming clouds produce the brightest and most colorful iridescence.

Norwegian spiral anomaly of 2009

The spiral appearance of clouds in the fantasy image have led some to inaccurately claim that this was the Norwegian spiral anomaly of 2009. That event did not resemble the photo above, and was the result of a failed Russian missile test.

Bottom Line

Both images are beautiful, though only one of them is real. One must wonder why people feel compelled to pass off works of art as real images to impress others.

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6 Comments on Is This Photo of Spiral Clouds Real or Fake?

  1. It’s remarkably interesting and beautiful, not matter real or created.

  2. just sooo AWESOME!!!! Absolutely gorgeous:-)

  3. I am glad that I checked the the “cloud spiral” that was posted by a Facebook friend. Not only did I learn the truth about a beautiful piece of art as well as who created it, I was able to find out about a real scientific phenomena known as iridescent clouds and see a photograph. It is absolutely gorgeous! I will spread the word.

  4. raven thomas // April 23, 2013 at 3:24 pm // Reply

    It is good to know the truth about the art. It is no less amazing as ART rather than science. It is also good to know who to CREDIT with the original Art. There is so much good art being shared on the internet. It is wonderful to be able to spread the treasures. I know that many are probably digitally coded but it would be REALLY great if artists like your self would place a signature or credit in the bottom left of any art you share the same as artists who paint on canvas. It would be great to attribute the credit where it is due!!!

    • Great comment. Many artists do include a signature – which is often cropped out by people who share it. :-(

  5. Thanks for your comment Damien! It’s a beautiful image, and from the comments we’ve seen around the internet, it’s clear you have created something that is appreciated by many people!

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