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Inversion layers create picture that blurs the line between Earth and Space.

A wonderfully beautiful picture taken on the outskirts of the Atacama Desert shows a Geminids meteor falling in a perfectly dark sky above the apparently daylight landscape surrounding the La Silla Observatory (Chile). The picture, appearing to show a night sky in the daytime, is difficult to believe it is not two separate images. Alas, the image’s unusual characteristic is possible because of an “inversion layer” located slightly above the 7,900-foot observatory.


An “inversion” is an unusual deviation from the normal atmospheric properties that vary with altitude. Normally the air within the lower atmosphere (called the troposphere) near the surface of the Earth is warmer than the air above it. This occurs because the lower atmosphere is heated by solar radiation striking the Earth’s surface. Given enough air pressure, this expected condition can change – the normal temperature is inverted so that the air is colder near the surface of the Earth. The condition typically occurs near warm fronts, along ocean coasts, or near mountains and results in the areas below the inversion being “murky” or clouded while the areas above the inversion point are perfectly clear. Inversion conditions often create unusual vistas and can even create a mirage!

Inversion layers can occur naturally or as a result of human activity. Natural inversion layers are typically caused by radiation cooling at night or the presence of a high-pressure system. Conversely, human-induced inversion layers are primarily caused by industrial emissions or wildfires.

The presence of an inversion layer can have significant impacts on human health and the environment. Inversion layers trap pollutants such as smog, which can cause respiratory problems, eye irritation, headaches, and other health issues. Additionally, inversion layers can negatively impact the environment by causing acid rain, reducing visibility, and affecting plant growth.

Check out the pictorial gallery below for more interesting examples of inversion layers.

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