Hoaxes & Rumors

Is This Photo of Spiral Clouds Real or Fake?

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 which has circulated online for several years:

“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 was originally posted here in 2010 under the name The Ruins. The picture is described as a “weather generator.” 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 not match 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 below, snapped by Oleg Bartunov, which is no less breathtaking. This photo includes the following description:

Real photo of iridescent clouds over Himalayas

“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.

Updated June 7, 2016
Originally published February 2013

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