Hot days, chilly waters make for some strange sights

Mirages form on Puget Sound on July 12, 2014. (Photo courtesy: Greg Johnson,

They weren't a throwback to the tall-sailed pirate ships of yore or a maritime version of a Star Trek Borg, but those who were on the western shores of Puget Sound this past weekend might have had to rub their eyes a bit while gazing out toward Whidbey Island.

Weather conditions were just right to create mirages on the water that turned simple container cargo ships into what looked like...perhaps a 1980s video game rendition of space invaders?

While it's been in the 80s and 90s this weekend, the chilly waters of Puget Sound cool the air just above the surface.

Cooler air is denser than warm air, and the rays of light between the ship at sea and your eye get bent when transitioning between these differing air densities. (Ever noticed how things at the bottom of a swimming pool or beneath a glass of water look distorted? Try looking through a glass of water at something on the other side -- this is somewhat similar effect.)

Here is what one cargo ship looked like on Saturday:

And here is what that "square" ship looks like without distortion:

These mirage distortions will trick your eye into thinking something is taller or shorter -- or in some cases, upside down. In this case, it might trick you into thinking you better find that old Atari joystick, and fast!