As humans have explored the Earth, we’ve encountered some believable examples of the power of nature. There are places in this world too dangerous for people to go to and areas so vividly affected by these natural phenomena that they’ve become the basis for folk tales and ghost stories in dozens of cultures. One of the core traits of humanity is curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. Seeing things so outside our everyday experience makes us want to understand what’s happening. While you probably won’t see most of these places in person, it’s still awesome to learn about them! We have the answers you’ve been searching for in this round-up of the most unbelievable natural phenomena from around the world.
Seeing a rainbow after a day of rain is always a pleasant experience that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face. But have you ever seen a moonbow? These gorgeous, multicolored arches appear at night when the light from the moon reflects and refracts off water droplets, just like rainbows. Moonbows are much more rare to see than rainbows because they require such specific conditions. They only happen when the moon is low in the sky, rain is falling opposite to the moon, and the sky is perfectly dark. You’d have a hard time seeing this if you live in or near a big city, but country dwellers have the possibility of seeing them on occasion.
The Doorway To Hell
There are some things in the world that look supernatural, and this fire in Turkmenistan is one of them! Back in 1971, petroleum engineers lit this fire and nature has kept it burning ever since. Not only is this sight eerie and dangerous, but it’s also become a source of ghost stories in the area. Many believe that it is truly a doorway to hell and that anyone who gets too close will suffer immense consequences. Realistically, natural gas is what keeps this fire burning so vividly, even after all these years. But it’s still stunning to look at!
Red-Sprite And Blue-Jet Lightning
During a stormy night in Hawaii in 2021, streaks of red-sprite and blue-jet lightning were captured in the skies by the Gemini North telescope at the Gemini Observatory in Mauna Kea. This is two separate types of rare lightning, and both are nearly impossible to capture on camera because they only last for a tenth of a second and are often hidden behind thunderstorm clouds. The odds of capturing both happening at the same time are astronomical! It looks so otherworldly that you might assume this picture is the result of photo editing, but it’s 100% real.
This phenomenon is often referred to as “dirty thunderstorms,” and it’s a powerful display of the unbelievable occurrences nature is capable of. Some volcanos around the world have the ability to produce lighting, and the effect is absolutely mesmerizing. Volcanic lightning generally appears in the earliest stages of a volcanic eruption and it happens in two places; low to the ground in ash clouds and high in the stratosphere. It’s a fascinating phenomenon that scientists are still working to study. The combination of molten lava and electricity makes it a dangerous event to study, so there are still some unknowns about dirty thunderstorms.
Have you ever seen a perfect halo around the sun and assumed it was just a perfectly-shaped rainbow? It turns out that, while similar to rainbows and moonbows, sun halos are considered their own event. A sun halo forms similarly to rainbows, but they form much higher in the sky. Light reflects through ice crystals, which causes this perfect circle to appear around the sun. Sometimes the circle is filled with different colors, but other times it appears as solid white.
Underwater Crop Circles
Plenty of people get excited about the thought of crop circles. They’ve been considered a sign of UFOs for many years, but crop circles don’t just appear in fields and farms. Crop circles have been seen underwater since 1955 when scientists first began studying the phenomenon. Those who hoped these were yet another sign of alien life were disappointed when researchers finally determined the cause of these unusual underwater designs. Male puffer fish create these circles to attract the attention of females when they’re ready to mate. It’s still pretty cool, but it’s definitely not the result of aliens.
Those who have ever been cave exploring and witnessed the majestic beauty of stalactites and stalagmites will understand just how powerful it is to come across brinicles. Brinicles are underwater hollow icicles that form when salt water freezes. These are only seen in the most severe conditions, and they can have powerful effects on the sea life around them. Under the right conditions, these icy fingers of death can stretch down to the ocean floor and freeze slow-moving bottom dwellers, like starfish, to death. Both fascinating and terrifying, brinicles are present only in the coldest bodies of saltwater around the world.
âThe Danxia Landforms
No, you’re not looking at an incredibly realistic painting or a photo that’s been altered with special effects. What you see is 100% real and indescribably beautiful to see in person. The Danxia Landforms exist in the southeastern sub-tropical region of China. These natural wonders formed through a complicated process. Red sandstone went through a period of erosion that created steep stratified outcrops and small isolated peaks. The power of wind and water formed The Danxia Landforms, and they are truly stunning sites to witness.
When people hear a meteor shower is going to be visible in their area, they grab chairs or blankets and take to high ground to watch the spectacle in the evening or early morning sky. Approximately thirty meteor showers happen each year that are visible to spectators on Earth. Some showers repeat around the same time every each year, like the Perseid meteor shower. The Perseid meteor shower occurs each year around August and was first observed nearly 2,000 years ago in China.
The idea of an underwater river sounds contradictory, but it’s a real occurrence that happens in many parts of the world. The one pictured here is in the Cenote Angelita in Mexico. Lakes and rivers exist underwater, but they aren’t exactly what you think. These areas form when salt water seeps up through thick layers of salt, which reside underneath the ocean’s floor. Essentially, underwater rivers and lakes are slurries of sand and silt moving along channels on the seafloor.
The very idea that the earth under your feet could fall out and swallow you up without warning is absolutely bone-chilling, but it’s an actual event that frequently happens all over the world. The photo above shows one such instance that happened in Florida, which nearly swallowed this person’s home whole. Sinkholes are generally caused when rainfall or other water seeps through the ground and absorbs carbon dioxide. It then reacts with decaying vegetation under the ground, which creates acidic water. The acid water continues to penetrate through the ground, eating away at limestone and other rock, and creating cracks and crevices. Eventually, this can lead to the formation of a sinkhole.
Great Blue Hole
Several famous Blue Holes exist throughout the world. The one in this picture exists in Belize, but others can be found in the Bahamas, Egypt, Australia, and Guam. These natural wonders are particularly popular with freedivers since they can access their depths directly from the shore without worrying about a strong current. This Blue Hole was formed at the end of the last Ice Age when rapidly rising seawater flooded various large caverns. It’s estimated that the caverns were flooded over 135,000 years ago and became completely submerged 15,000 years ago.
Whirlpools are terrifying to think about, but the odds of getting caught in one are fairly low. They need very specific conditions to form, and it’s likely you wouldn’t be in the water during these conditions. Super tiny whirlpools can form in rivers and lakes, but most people think of oceanic whirlpools. These swirling spots of fast-moving water are generally caused by a strong tide meeting an opposing force. The water twists away from the force and gets caught in this spinning motion. Whirlpools have been known to reach speeds over 17 miles per hour.
Frozen Methane Bubbles
This stunning sight is found in various freezing lakes, but most notably in Siberia’s Lake Baikal. What you’re looking at is the result of organic matter accumulating right at the bottom of a water source. As the high bacteria count in the lake begins decomposing, it releases an extraordinary amount of methane gas. This gas is released in the form of bubbles, which freeze as they float to the surface. It looks like something you’d see in a movie about an alien planet, but this natural phenomenon has been noted throughout history.
Glowing Ocean Waters
Have you ever stood on the beach and watched the water light up? This spooky phenomenon might cause some beachgoers to become weary of the vast ocean, but it’s a completely normal event. Phytoplankton are the cause behind this mystical blue light in the ocean water. These microorganisms give off light when the movement of the waves and currents agitates them. Beaches all over the world light up because of bioluminescent plankton, and it’s a fascinating site to witness in person. It’s even better when you see them as you’re heading to shore on a boat or kayak!
Mud volcanoes aren’t yet well understood by geologists, but there are an estimated 700 of them around the world. These strange formations are usually found along fault lines and at weak points in the Earth’s crust. Most mud volcanoes are associated with the presence of organic gas from hydrocarbon deposits and young sedimentary deposits. These volcanoes do erupt on occasion, and it’s unlike anything else you’ve ever seen. Sometimes, a giant mud bubble full of methane gas erupts, but other times, the gas ignites and creates a fiery explosion. It’s best not to get too close to these natural formations.
The Lake Natron
Located in Tanzania, The Lake Natron is one of the most unusual natural events on this list. Known by locals as “Deadly Lake,” this body of water is extremely caustic (alkaline) due to its proximity to a volcano. This beautiful but deadly red lake will poison and kill any living creature that comes into contact with it, and carcasses of animals who met their demise at the hands of this lake can be found in and around the body of water. You can visit the lake to admire its uniqueness, but you definitely don’t want to get too close!
This mystical display of the beauty of nature occurs all over the world, but only during ideal conditions. Light pillars, sometimes known as solar pillar or sun pillars happen in areas with a natural cold climate. When temperatures get very low and the air is filled with ice crystals, light reflects and refracts off those crystals to create this beautiful event. Light pillars are most often seen during the earliest part of the morning when the sun is barely visible.
We know this picture looks like something out of a science fiction movie, but don’t panic! What you’re looking at isn’t a cleverly disguised UFO about to land on that mountaintop. It’s actually a cloud formation known as lenticular clouds. While rare, these cloud formations happen all over the world. Lenticular clouds form when there is extreme instability in the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere. Moist winds blow over mountains, and when the wind gets caught among the peaks, it starts going in perpendicular directions, which creates these awe-inspiring cloud formations. The sight of these clouds can be pretty scary, especially if you don’t know what caused them, but they’re a normal if somewhat unusual, natural occurrence.
A tornado over water sounds like a recipe for disaster, but waterspouts are actually a type of cloud. Mainly found in tropical and subtropical climates, waterspouts are a gorgeous example of what happens when the perfect weather conditions align. When cold air moves over the warm water, it creates this swirling formation. They often dissipate quickly and generally don’t exceed a speed of 15 knots. It’s not unusual to see one of these in person, but you don’t need to panic and run off the beach. Just wait twenty minutes or so for it to go away before you get in the water.
Have you ever imagined something as crazy sounding as a snow chimney existing naturally in this world? It may not sound like a natural occurrence, but snow chimneys exist in extremely cold regions. Volcanoes in frigid areas emit steam that eventually freezes due to the outside temperatures. The frozen steam creates these cone-like shapes, which have been aptly named “snow chimneys.” As more steam is released, it continues to freeze and layer on top of the previous section. This can create some extremely tall snow chimneys, like the one in this picture.
The next time you take a trip to Antarctica, you’ll want to visit the famous Blood Falls. This eerie red waterfall looks like something out of a horror movie, but the waterfall located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys takes on this horrifying color due to the algae present in the Taylor Glacier. However, recent research by the University of Alaska Fairbanks has suggested a different conclusion. Their research indicates the color is caused by oxidized iron in the saltwater. Either way, it’s a frightening display that you won’t want to miss if you’re ever in the area!
We’ve talked a lot about different freaky volcanic occurrences on this list. From mud volcanoes to snow chimneys and volcanic lightning, there’s no shortage of fascinating things that happen around these natural formations. Now, it’s time to add the Blue Volcano in Ethiopia to the list! You can only see the blue at night, but it still creates an otherworldly appearance that’s grabbed worldwide attention. There’s plenty of science behind why the molten lava appears blue. But the simplified version is that this volcano contains massive amounts of sulfur, which creates this blue hue when it burns.
Gorgeous salt flats can be found all over the world. Most know about the massive salt flats in Utah, Western Australia, and South Australia, but there are smaller pockets all over the world. Salt flats are the result of the evaporation of large bodies of water that were filled with salts and other minerals. Some salt flats were formed 17 million years ago! They’re a fascinating example of the power of water and the mark that simple salts and minerals can leave on our Earth.
The Aurora Phenomenon
Ah, yes, the aurora phenomenon. Most people have heard of it, and many have even seen it in person. This mesmerizing display of colorful lights in the night sky is one of the world’s most recognized and sought-after natural phenomena. Many will travel for miles to witness this occurrence in person, and it’s not hard to see why. Auroras are caused by the sun’s electrically-charged particles that strike nitrogen, oxygen, or other particles found in the atmosphere.
Glow Worm Caves
Formed more than 30 million years ago, The Waitomo Caves in New Zealand are the most well-known example of glow worm caves. Most of these caves are found in New Zealand and Australia, and they attract thousands of tourists each year. While everyone refers to these phenomena as “glow worm caves,” this stunning light display isn’t actually the cause of glow worms. Apparently, they’re the result of fungus gnat eggs hatching. Their larva then constructs mucus, which coughs up silk strings. These strings collect droplets of more mucus and create a type of net. This is what you see illuminated in these caves, and the net attracts bugs and insects for the worms to eat and continue their lifecycles.
The idea of a colorful spotted lake isn’t one we’d immediately think to be a natural occurrence, but they exist. This stunning spotted lake in Osoyoos is a prime example of what happens when highly concentrated water and saline evaporate during the warmer summer months. Colorful mineral deposits are left behind during the evaporation process, which causes these spots on the lake’s surface. It looks sketchy, but it’s completely normal and benign.
Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees
If you ever take a trip to the Phillippines or Indonesia, you need to check out these unbelievable rainbow eucalyptus trees. Also known as rainbow gum trees, these gorgeous tree stripes are 100% natural. It looks like an expert artist went to work with their paintbrush, but in reality, the colors are the result of different layers of bark showing on the tree. When thin bark layers peel away, the younger vibrant colored layers are revealed. The bark begins as green and then cycles through purple, red, and brown as the tree ages and loses chlorophyll. Once the shedding cycle ends, the bark returns to a brown color.
âThe Everlasting Storm
You may think the name “The Everlasting Storm” sounds dramatic, but it’s an accurate name for what takes place over the mouth of the Catatumbo River in Venezuela. Sometimes referred to as the “eternal thunderstorm” or the “Beacon of Maracaibo,” this event is essentially a crazy thunderstorm that rarely pauses. The storm is filled with thunder and frequent lightning, with one eyewitness claiming to have witnessed 29 lightning strikes every minute. There’s a deeply scientific explanation for this phenomenon, but basically, it’s the result of wind, heat, and moisture creating electrical charges that are constantly destabilized by the nearby Andes mountain ridges.
The Eye Of The Sahara
The Eye of the Sahara, also known as the Richat Structure, was first photographed by Gemini astronauts in 1960. Originally, experts believed this incredible formation was the result of a space object hitting the Earth’s surface many years ago, but further research has disputed that theory. Now, scientists believe this structure is the result of volcanic activity from millions of years ago. The activity shifted the Earth’s surface and allowed the volcanic flow to push up the overlying layers of sandstone and other rocks. After the activity receded, water and wind erosion ate away at the layers of rock. Once the region settled down and collapsed into itself, this roughly circular eye land feature was created.
Travertine is a specific type of limestone that forms in mineral spring deposits. Travertine terraces are found in many areas of the world, most notably New Zealand. These gorgeous displays are a somewhat debated topic among experts. Some say it’s the cause of carbon dioxide filled hot water flowing through limestone. When it dissolves, it carries calcium carbonate to the surface of the travertine. Others suggest that bacteria in the water could catalyze the minerals and cause the terraces to form. More research needs to be done to fully understand this unbelievable phenomenon.
Don’t stare at this picture too hard because you’ll start to question whether you’re witnessing an optical illusion! Originating as dunes in Arizona, these sandstone waves date back more than 190 million years! The waves are made up of traversing troughs of sandstone turned to rock. Dunes typically form vertically and horizontally, so these waves result from millions of years of slow erosion caused by wind and rain. Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts flock to view these waves every year, and it’s truly a marvel of Arizona.
These nearly perfect spherical boulders found along the coast of New Zealand have attracted plenty of awe and speculation. At first sight, it’s easy to assume these boulders were sculpted by human hands, but they’re actually a result of nature. The Moeraki Boulders have been formed over millions, possibly even billions, of years through a process known as concretion. They’re an amazing thing to witness and yet another example of the mysterious power nature holds.
âThe Morning Glory Cloud
Without knowing the science behind this insane cloud formation, it’s understandable to become nervous. It looks like an ominous omen, but it’s actually a totally normal and rare natural occurrence. Morning glory clouds can form all over the world, but this picture is from an instance in Southern Australia. This type of cloud formation happens when a low-level atmospheric wave and a regular cloud meet. When they meet, several bands form roll clouds, which is what you’re witnessing in this photo. It’s an interesting phenomenon that often occurs due to an unexpected cold front.
Deserts aren’t exactly known for creating and sustaining beautiful lifeforms. But these desert roses aren’t the gorgeous flowers you’d gift your significant other on the holidays. They’re a special type of crystal group, which forms when excess rain or flooding happens in desert areas with trapped particles of sand. The dramatic switching between wet and dry conditions forms these crystals while trapping grains of sand. Most desert roses form from gypsum, but it’s also possible for them to form from celestite and baryte.
Fairy Circles Of Namibia
If you’ve ever visited Namibia or spent time researching the area, you know this country is full of gorgeous natural wonders. From its vast deserts to extensive grasslands, Namibia has much to offer for nature enthusiasts. One natural feature that’s drawn a lot of curiosity over the years is these “fairy circles” located in the grasslands. These barren circles are surrounded by Stipagrotis grasses and appear to be fairly evenly sized and shaped. Researchers still aren’t positive about the cause, but some have suggested that they’re the result of sand termites, which damage grassroots and prevent further growth in these areas.
âStarling Murmuration In Denmark
Have you ever watched a flock of birds swoop across the sky together in perfect unison? It’s a beautiful experience to witness, but the starlings in Denmark take this practice up to eleven! Giant groups of starlings will twist, turn, swoop, and swirl across the sky to form stunning shape-shifting clouds. This is called a murmuration, and it’s absolutely awe-inspiring. The level of control and communication these birds need to complete this feat without ever running into each other or breaking formation is almost difficult to believe.
âThe Amazonian Tidal Bore
The Amazon River is a vibrant and mysterious place, full of species that look as if they’re stuck in prehistoric times and the densest surrounding rainforest in the world. The Amazonian Tidal Bore, also known as “Poporoca” is an event that happens when the Amazon River floods. The flooding creates these constant waves, and this phenomenon happens twice every year. Surfers from all over flock to take advantage of the perfect conditions and gorgeous scenery.
The Great Monarch Migration
Monarch butterflies are one of the most well-known and beautiful species in North America. Every autumn and spring, the subspecies Danaus plexippus plexippus makes a magnificent journey from North America to Mexico. Roughly 500,000 butterflies take this journey together and head to warmer regions. Can you imagine witnessing a cloud of monarchs pass you by while you’re walking to work or standing outside in your yard? It’s a breathtaking experience and one of the most amazing natural events a person could witness.
âTurquoise Ice In Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it holds an astonishing 20% of the freshwater found on Earth. This lake is known for having some of the most crystal clear water in the entire world, which gives it an astonishing glassy appearance during the summer. During the winter months, frozen shards of water push up through the lake’s surface, creating turquoise-colored ice.
Antarctica is one of the world’s coldest and most inhospitable regions, but it’s also home to some of the most impressive natural wonders found on Earth. Frost flowers are just one example of the amazing natural phenomena you’ll find in this region. They aren’t actually flowers, but they’re intricately shaped ice crystals that freeze on the surface of the sea, creating an appearance similar to flowers. They’re usually caused by a huge drop in atmospheric pressure.
This is another example of the unbelievable sights you might witness on a trip to Antarctica. These striped icebergs are unique to Antarctica, as you literally won’t see this anywhere else in the world! The stripes are often made of different shades of blue and green, and truly look like something you’d see an artist paint rather than a natural occurrence. These stunning icebergs are created when seawater intrudes into vertical cracks, which happen in the ice shelf as it breaks away from land. When the seawater fills up the cracks, it freezes into a colored stripe. The different colors are often the result of temperature changes.