The Viral Picture Of ‘Wildfires’ Beneath Clouds Is Actually A Hawaiian Sunset

The Viral Picture Of ‘Wildfires’ Beneath Clouds Is Actually A Hawaiian Sunset

Fake news and pictures on the Internet. It is baffling to me why someone would want to share information that is factually incorrect, but the lure of "likes," "shares," and "retweets" is addictive I suppose. It's a sunset. It is an interesting optical spectacle as the light of the sunset was visible through a deck of altocumulus clouds. As I have written before in Forbes, when the sun is low on the horizon at sunset, light travels through more of the atmosphere. The scattering leaves longer wavelength colors like orange and red. Altocumulus clouds that were in the viral picture are middle level clouds. They also enhance the attenuation of both direct and scattered light, especially when the sun is low in the sky......This effect is most noticeable in an airplane, shortly after take-off on a hazy evening: A seemingly bland sunset at the ground gives way to vivid color aloft as soon as the plane ascends beyond the haze. When the haze layer is shallow, a similar effect sometimes is evident at the surface.... Dr. Shieh shared with me in a direct message that he was very concerned about how easily this photo went viral. Dr. Shieh sums up his perspective, The fact that fake news spreads faster than real news is something that truly concerns me, as not only a physical scientist but also now as a political scientist.

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It is a part of our daily lives now. Fake news and pictures on the Internet. It is baffling to me why someone would want to share information that is factually incorrect, but the lure of “likes,” “shares,” and “retweets” is addictive I suppose. Recently, a picture was getting around the Internet of a deck of altocumulus clouds over an eery reddish-orange glow. It was being shared as the California wildfires. It is not (Where is the smoke?). It’s a sunset. I spoke with my colleague Dr. Owen Shieh, a meteorologist and Department Head at the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii, who shared the original picture. Here is the real scoop and some science behind the picture.

Clouds and a Hawaiian sunset not the California wildfires. Owen Shieh

Owen told me that the picture was simply of a sunset over Hawaiian ocean waters. Yep, that’s it. It is not even volcanic activity as some have also reported. Owen reached out to me and said,

I’ve been trying to debunk this viral misinformation but to no avail….You are welcome to write about this on Forbes! I think a lot can be learned from this case…

The actual photo was take by Dr. Shieh’s friend Nathan Province. It is an interesting optical spectacle as the light of the sunset was visible through a deck of altocumulus clouds. As I have written before in Forbes, when the sun is low on the horizon at sunset, light travels through more of the atmosphere. Shorter wavelengths like blue or violet are scattered out. If you have satellite TV, this is similar to the attenuation effect when rain causes signal loss. The scattering leaves longer wavelength colors like orange and red.

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