The eerie sight transformed a typical night sky into something akin to a sci-fi movie — but with a harmless explanation.
The sky in Zhoushan, China, turned blood red on May 7, stunning residents.
It was so striking that some even attributed it to the start of the apocalypse. However, local officials discovered and would soon share a relatively simple explanation for the perplexing red-looking sky.
The unusual phenomenon was recorded on video by multiple residents in the area. Footage showed the sky transformed into a strange red glow on an already eerie foggy and wet night.
“Panic could be heard in the voices of the residents as they recorded the discolored horizon, stirring apocalyptic fears,” Britain’s Daily Mail reported. “The crimson sky was most prominent by the port, prompting worries that a fire had got out of control.”
The fog and the clouds turned out to be key to the red light’s formation.
When the red light appeared in the sky, it was foggy, cloudy, and drizzling — perfect conditions for red lights on the ground to reflect off the clouds. It is suspected the peculiar red light came from a fishing boat in the city’s harbor.
“When weather conditions are good, more water in the atmosphere forms aerosols which refract and scatter the light of fishing boats and create the red sky seen by the public,” said the staff of the Zhoushan Meteorological Bureau, according to The Global Times.
It is not a surprise that boats were the cause of the odd red light in Zhoushan. The city is the largest fishery in China. It also has one of the world’s busiest ports. More than 1.1 million people live in the city, comprised of an urbanized archipelago about a three-hour drive south of Shanghai.
The rare phenomenon of a red sky became one of the top trending topics on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media. It attracted more than 150 million views as of May 8.
A red sky also appeared for nine days in many countries in 1770, which Japanese scientists claimed in an academic article in 2017 was caused by a massive solar activity, according to Global Times.
Fog is an excellent refractor of light, meaning strong lights passing through it can do all sorts of weird things. Back in 2018, freezing fog helped to create stunning alien-like light pillars in parts of Beloit, Wisconsin, which lit up the skies there in a variety of unusual colors.
Light pillars are an optical phenomenon caused when light is refracted by ice crystals. These lights tend to take on the color of the light source.