It’s aliens, right?

There’s no mountain in Japan that more people want to see than Mt. Fuji, but unfortunately it’s one of the hardest mountains to catch a glimpse of. Local geography and weather patterns mean that even though Fuji is the highest peak in the country, it’s often shrouded in mist and obscured by clouds, much to the dismay of travelers and photographers.

And sure enough, when Japanese Twitter user Taitan (@taitan21) pointed his camera towards Mt. Fuji the other day, there was a big old cloud between where he was standing in Fuji City, Shizuoka Prefecture, and the mountain. For once, though, that didn’t ruin the shot, but only made it all the more incredible.

With Mt. Fuji being a symbol of the country, the average Japanese person sees countless photos of the mountain, but few had ever seen it looking like this, prompting many to give their tongue-in-cheek theories as to what’s going on in the photo.

“So that’s a spaceship, right?”
“I think Mt. Fuji might be erupting.”
“Without question, if you travel to the center of that cloud you’ll find [Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky] Laputa.”
“Waiting for Fujin and Raijin [Shinto gods of wind and lightning] to appear.”
“Are the gods making cotton candy?”

There’s an explanation that doesn’t involve extraterrestrials or deities, though. This type of cloud formation is called a lenticular cloud, but in this case the Japanese term, tsurushigumo, or “hanging cloud,” might be easier to mentally grasp.

In simple terms, these kind of clouds form when moist air is blown by the wind over the top of a high mountain. As it move to the far side of the mountain, the wind forms a wave-like current, and the air cools. If it gets cool enough, a cloud forms between where the wind wave rises and falls, and the reduced lateral current keeps it in place, forming an increasingly large cloud with a lens-like shape that “hangs” in the same spot of the sky.

▼ A view of the cloud from Yamanashi Prefecture, on the opposite side of Mt. Fuji from where Taitan took his photo.

With rain the previous day and cool overnight temperatures, the conditions were just right at the time Taitan’s photo was taken. Of course, being a resident of Fuji City, he has plenty of chances to take picture of the mountain, and the “hanging cloud” shot is far from his only breathtaking photo.

The common wisdom is that winter, the driest season in Japan, is the best time to photograph Mt. Fuji. But as Taitan’s works show, it has a unique beauty on cloudy days too, so there’s no need to postpone your visit until the coldest part of the year.

Sources: Twitter/@taitan21 via IT Media, Weather News
Top image: Twitter/@taitan21
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