Here's the science behind those weird UFO-shaped clouds over Cape Town

Lenticular CloudJohn2165/Wikimedia CommonsLenticular clouds near Detroit Lake, Oregon in 2007.

Weird weather can easily play tricks on our eyes. It can make entire cities look like they’re floating, or like a tsunami wave is descending from the clouds

In Cape Town, South Africa this weekend, clouds that looked like UFOs hung low over the city and surrounding areas, appearing as if aliens might land and start abducting residents. 

Of course, these clouds weren’t real spaceships — they were simply the product of changes in air temperature. 

A photo posted by Kyle Mijlof (@mijlof) on

As NASA explains, “lenticular clouds” form when warm air rises while passing over a mountain or other rough topographic feature. This warm rising air quickly cools, chilling the water in the newly formed cloud so it condenses into droplets that we can see. Then, if a strong wind blows in from the side it can give the cloud a layered, stack-of-pancakes-looking shape, creating a lenticular cloud formation. 

These clouds look stationary, as seen in this time-lapse GIF below, but that’s only because they are continuously forming and disappearing. The air continues on it’s upward path, but is no longer white because denser clouds appear grey (usually because of ice crystals). The side wind keeps blowing and forming the disk shapes as more air cools and floats upward. 

Here’s some more shots of the lenticular clouds above Cape Town: 

 Aren’t they cool? 

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