An atmospheric scientist explains that the pink ‘UFO’ viral cloud

BURSA, TURKEY – JANUARY 19: Lenticular clouds appear over the Bursa province of Turkiye in early times. … [+] on the morning of January 19, 2023. (Photo by Sinan Balcikoca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

There are many hoaxes or fake weather pictures on social media, but the viral pictures of a pink cloud over Turkey are legit. On January 19, 2023, a strange cloud appeared over the province of Bursa. Here is an explanation of the cloud and its magnificent color.

I was unaware of the viral images until a friend from college tagged me on Twitter asking for an explanation. When I saw the image, it was clearly an example of a lenticular cloud. In May 2023, I wrote an article in Forbes about five weather things often called UFOs, and lenticular clouds were among them. According to a NASA website, the form when, “Strong winds blow across complex terrain, causing water vapor in the air mass to alternately compress, then decompress, and thus condenses into shapes that roughly reflect the ground below.

How lenticular clouds form

National Weather Service website

The technical term for a lenticular cloud is lenticularis, which according to the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Glossary is: “A kind of cloud whose elements are in the form of generally smooth, more or less isolated lenses or almonds; the outlines are sharp and sometimes show iridescence.” Well, Dr. Shepherd, what is iridescence? It is the color that iridescent clouds show. The AMS glossary goes on to say: “Irization is the result of optical diffraction phenomena, usually of several orders.” Cloud droplets or ice particles actually cause light to stretch or bend when it passes through a narrow part or crosses an edge. In certain types of clouds (pileo, lenticular, and certain types of cirrus) bright colors can be seen.

The viral images of Turkey were taken at or near sunrise, which probably also explains the color palette. During sunrise or sunset, the sun is lower on the horizon. The light travels through more of the atmosphere, causing shorter wavelengths of light to be scattered, such as blue and violet. This allows the longer wavelength colors of visible light (yellow, orange, and red) to be more apparent. If the air is dusty or polluted, the red-orange colors can be even more vibrant.

Keep looking. There are often really interesting things to see.

Why is sunset or sunrise reddish?

UK Met Office