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Chapter 11 - Nature:
|A Random Illusion
Courtesy of Illusion-Optical.com
The apparent form of the sky has attracted the attention of many scientific investigators for centuries. There are many conflicting opinions as to the causes of this appearance of form, but there is general agreement that the sky appears usually as a flattened vault. The sky is bright, due to scattering of light by actual particles of solid matter and moisture and possibly by molecules of gas. Lack of optical homogeneity due to varying refractive index is likely to be partially responsible. Usually a prominent layer of haze about a mile in thickness (although this varies considerably) lies next to the earth's surface. The top of this haze is fairly well defined as aerial travelers know, but the sky above is still far from black, indicating scattered light and illuminated particles still higher. As one continues to ascend, thereby leaving more and more of the luminous haze behind, the sky becomes darker and darker. Often at altitudes of four or five miles the sky is very dark and the sun is piercingly bright. Usually there is little or no bright haze adjacent to the sun at these high altitudes as is commonly seen from the earth's surface. At these high altitudes the author is not conscious of a flattened vault as at the earth's surface but the illusion of a hemispherical dome still persists.
There is some agreement that the dome of the sky appears less depressed at the zenith during nighttime than during daytime. This agrees with what the author has observed at very great altitudes when the sky was much darker than when viewed from the earth's surface. Dember and Uibe assumed the apparent shape as a part of a sphere (justifying this assumption to their satisfaction) and obtained estimates of the apparent depression at the zenith. They estimated the middle point of the arc from the zenith to the horizon and then measured the angular altitude of that point. They found that the degree of clearness of the sky has considerable influence upon the apparent height and they state that the sky appears higher in the sub-tropics than in Germany. On very clear moonless nights they found that the shape of the sky-dome differs little from that of a hemisphere. They concluded that the phenomenon is apparently due to optical conditions of the atmosphere which have not been determined.
It is of interest to note the appearance of the sky when cumulus clouds are present. The bases of these vary in height, but are found at altitudes from three to five thousand feet. They appear to form a flat roof of clouds bending downward at the horizon, thus giving the appearance of a vaulted but flattened dome. This apparent shape does not differ much in clear weather, perhaps due largely to the accustomedness of the eye and to the degradation of color from blue to gray toward the horizon. Furthermore the lower sky is usually much brighter than the zenith and the latter being darker appears to hang lower. It is of interest to note how persistent is the illusion of a flattened dome, for when one rises rapidly in the air and, within a few minutes, is on the level with the clouds or the dense low-lying haze, he is mildly surprised to find these are levels and not vaulted roofs. Despite the fact that by many previous experiences he has learned what to expect, the feeling of mild surprise is born each time on ascending rapidly.
Chapter 11 - Nature:
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Chapter 11 - Nature:|
Apparent Enlargement of Heavenly Bodies at the Horizon
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