At certain times over the Strait of Messina, which divides Italy from Sicily, an
elaborate scene of crystal castles, palaces, and streets shimmers between the water and
the sky. This vision is named the Fata Morgana after King Arthur’s half sister, the
fairy Morgan le Fay, who according to legend lived in a shining palace beneath the sea.
However, the beautiful structures are only a mirage. The mirage is caused by images
of rippling waves and sometimes a combination of the sea and distant buildings, cliffs,
and trees, all distorted by layers of hot and cold air over the channel. Changing winds
also vibrate the images, causing the illusion to oscillate between sea, sky, brightness,
darkness, castles, columns, and forests.
Similar mirages have now been sighted over large water bodies and ice fields. Also
called Fata Morgana, they occur all over the world. For instance, the Silent City of
Alaska surfaces every year on the Muir Glacier, and is claimed by some to be a
long-distance mirage of Bristol, England (which is actually 2,500 miles away). It
actually originates in Alaska’s own jagged topography and transformed into a visual
masterpiece by layers of air.