Cloudy UFO Over Mt. Hood

The entire universe in blog form
March 30 2013 8:00 AM

Lenticular by Night

Cloudy nights aren’t always a disaster for astrophotographers.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Take Ben Canales. He takes magnificent night sky photos (like this one in Oregon that totally blew me away), so you’d think he’d always want clear skies.


But on Mar. 9, 2013, near Mt. Hood in Oregon, he took this unbelievable picture:

Ben Canales pic of Mt Hood and cloud
The scene shortly before Richard Dreyfuss flies away into the night and the John Williams music kicks in.

Image credit: Ben Canales (used by permission)

I know, right? That’s a lenticular cloud, so called because they’re shaped like lenses. They’re fairly common near tall mountains, where moist air flowing around and over the peak condenses downwind of the mountain. The air is always flowing, but the spot where the moisture condenses is stationary, so it looks like the cloud is hovering.

Some lenticulars are huge and dramatic, looking just like UFOs (and because they hover they’ve been reported as such). Others are smaller, and may only be rounded on the upwind side, trailing away downwind. I see that kind all the time here in Boulder, with the ragged tops of the Rockies to the west.

Ben’s shot is incredible. Mt. Hood and the cloud dominate the shot, but if you look at the full-res picture you can see some stars dotting the sky; I could see the constellations of Cassiopeia to the left of the volcano and part of Aquila to the right. He mentioned he took this shot at dawn, so I knew he was west of Mt. Hood facing east, making the stars easier to identify.

Taking great pictures takes a lot of preparation and experience, but sometimes being lucky helps. Even if that luck is bad—and clouds block the star shot you want—you can still make some good of it.



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.