The beloved animated television series Avatar: The Last Airbender has spawned a feature film, a comic book series, a bunch of novels, a spin-off, a live-action reboot, and much more. It involves the adventures of a band of rebels, some of whom have extraordinary magical powers over one or more of the four elements, and are fighting against a despotic leader of the Fire Nation, who is trying to take over the world. The leader of this group, the titular “Avatar,” is a young monk who has as his pet, familiar, and mode of transportation a giant, six-legged, flying “air bison” named Appa.
And some folks think they saw this creature in the sky over Phoenix.
Come on, admit it. It looks like Appa.
But it’s not.
What these folks witnessed is something called a lenticular cloud. So called because they have a “lens” shape, lenticular clouds are commonly mistaken for UFOs (or in some cases, air bison) because they look like the stereotypical silver flying saucer. In this case, the shape of the cloud and its density compared to the other clouds in the sky led it to be that silvery-gray color. Lenticular clouds often form over hills or mountains, like a little cap, and then maintain their odd, disc-like form as they travel across the land before dissipating like all other clouds.
Our ability to find patterns in random shapes like clouds is a psychological phenomenon known as pareidolia, from the Greek root words “para”, meaning beside or instead of (as in paranormal) and eidōlon, which means image or shape. So it’s literally about finding shapes other than the (random) shape it’s actually meant to be.
Either way—sign or coincidence—such a cloud is a pretty cool sight.
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