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Spaceship? Flying saucer? UFO? Altocumulus lenticularis

Kate Doyle, Wednesday September 9, 2020 - 10:48 EST
ABC image
This UFO-like phenomena was sighted multiple times across eastern Melbourne. - ABC

What caused the mysterious spaceship-like cloud that loomed over Melbourne as dawn broke on Tuesday morning?

Video producer Sue Roberts was quick to get her camera out when she saw the strange formation out of her window.

"It was about 6:30 and I just saw the most amazing light in the sky," she said.



Amid the dawn glow she saw a "really odd-looking" cloud just above the horizon.

"It was brightly coloured and looked like a space ship. It looked quite surreal actually."

The weird thing was it didn't seem to change.

"It was just sitting there for ages and I was curious to know what type of cloud it was."

Ms Roberts wasn't the only one. Reports of the odd cloud came in from across eastern Melbourne.



What caused this spaceship cloud?

Aliens.



Just kidding — although these clouds have been mistaken for UFOs over the years and could even be why we think of "flying saucers".

It was a lenticular cloud — in this case an altocumulus lenticularis — according to Rowland Beardsell, technical observer at the Bureau of Meteorology.

He said these clouds formed near mountain ranges where there was strong atmospheric flow pushing perpendicular to the range.

"Basically you've got these beautiful, smooth layers of wind just running along happily and they get obstructed by the mountain range which causes waves to form," he said.



For us to then see the cloud, there needs to be moisture.

If there is moisture present, the cloud can condense at the crest of the wave but is eroded as the wave descends.

"So it causes the presence of a standing wave or a stationary cloud," Mr Beardsell said.

The smoothness is part of what defines lenticular clouds.

"The lenticular formation is considered beautifully smoothed out, like they have been sculptured almost," he said.





What's with the colour?

That was just lucky timing.

"We had the sun rising in the east and the illumination on the ice crystals in the cloud just gave rise to that beautiful orange appearance," Mr Beardsell said.

So, how does it figure in with the wild winds Victoria has been experiencing as a cold front moved through?

Mr Rowland said the cloud was more to do with the strong wind ahead of the front; there were similar disturbances ahead of the system as it moved through South Australia on Monday night, according to Mr Beardsell.



"It was just at the right angle and there was just enough moisture present to show that cloud being lifted up over the mountain range to form those waves."

Lenticular waves are not necessarily a sign of oncoming unstable weather, but they definitely mark the presence of turbulent air above and can be a handy indicator for pilots, he added.



There's still a spectacular world out there

Meanwhile, still in lockdown in Melbourne, Ms Roberts is trying to stay connected to nature.



"I feel like the air in Melbourne's a lot cleaner and the birds are out and springs is here. I think that gives us some sense of positivity," she said.

"Just being in nature is really important right now, and at least we are able to do that.

"We can go for walks in the park and all that sort of stuff and exercise is critical I reckon."

So next time you are out and about, be sure to take your phone in case of stray "UFOs".


- ABC

© ABC 2020

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