The physics of why there are no vampires at the North Pole

The Novaya Zemlya Effect has to be one of the reasons why there is a scarcity of vampire polar explorers. The effect happens near the poles, where atmospheric physics and the sun combine to make sunrise and sunset a little more unpredictable than other places. We'll tell you about the physics of sun mirages, and how extreme they can get.

The picture directly below is not, actually, a picture of the Novaya Zemlya Effect. The effect happens at the poles, generally only during certain seasons, and is subject to atmospheric conditions. As such, it's very hard to get on camera. This is a picture of a sun mirage in a very dark sky. Odds are, the sky is dark because the sun, though visible, is already down. Almost everyone has seen sun mirages. There have probably been times when you've seen a tiny pool of light spread below the sinking sun on the horizon. At other times, the sun may have seemed distorted into a square or a rectangle, or there may have been bright spots of light above it as it rose or set.

The physics of why there are no vampires at the North Pole

These aren't brightly lit clouds. They're mirages, just like the mirages you see on the roads on hot days. Air bends light differently depending on what temperature it is, and the hot air rising from a road can bend light coming in from the sky - or from distant objects - back up so that it hits your eye. You see blue or dark patches in the middle of a light gray road. The same happens with the sun. Layers of hot or cool air can run for miles over the ocean, and they bend sunlight streaming upwards towards the upper atmosphere back down so it can be seen by people watching the sun set.

The Novaya Zemlya Effect gets its name from the island off the coast of Siberia, where it befuddled the crew of a Dutch exploring expedition. Being sailors in the late 1500s, they took celestial objects and time keeping very seriously - knowing where heavenly objects were meant knowing where they themselves were. And so it bothered them when sunrise regularly came earlier than they were expecting, and sunset came later. It wasn't until the sun started coming up square, or sometimes coming up in segments across the sky, that they realized what was happening. The mirage was so intense that the sun appeared to be rising minutes earlier than it actually did rise. They named the effect after the island, and the name stuck.

All I can think of are all those old vampire movies, where the vampire is about to strike - only to be chased away by the first rays of the sun. Around the poles, when dawn can come even earlier than expected, it had to be tough to be a vampire. You'd have to build in extra time to get anything done.

Arctic sunrise image via Martin Lopatka/Flickr. Mirage image via Brocken In A Glory

Via Optics Info Base