Julia Jones, Yachting Monthly's literary reviewer discusses the 'eye-opening' Lights Fantastic, by Peter Varley

Lights Fantastic
Peter Varley
ELMO books £11.99

Peter Varley is a retired meteorologist and oceanographer.

This book is published in support of his work as a cruise ship enrichment speaker but certainly deserves consideration by yachtsmen – even those who are not going to venture sufficiently far north or south to experience the aurora.

Within Varley’s extensive list of optical phenomena there are many which we will have noticed but not necessarily named or fully understood.

‘Mock sun’ mirages become immediately more than pretty colours in the sky when one considers them as revealing different temperature layers in the atmosphere.

The different way one sees at night is explained by the different uses of rods and cones in the structure of the eye.

Now when I see crepuscular rays pointing upwards from the sun just below the horizon, I might think to turn and check whether there are anti-crepuscular rays exactly opposite its position.

I will try to convince my brain that these rays are parallel even as I ‘see’ them diverge.

There are several interesting observations on the way that our brains’ expectations distort the evidence that is arriving through our eyes.

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There are also some intriguing comments on phenomena which will be revealed in colour on a camera though they appear colour-less to the naked eye.

One example is the dim glow from the earth’s atmosphere itself.

This can only be seen in the darkest nights and varies with the solar cycle.

The photographs in this book are very helpful and although Varley is not himself an expert photographer, he is occasionally able to offer some technical detail explaining how they were achieved.

Similarly he suggests geographical areas where certain phenomena are more likely – eg mirages along coasts near cold currents – and these more usually n the east side of the major oceans.

Some advance eclipse dates are offered.

A cover to cover read may be slightly hard work as one’s brain (mine anyway) struggles to take in the quite baldly presented information.

By the end however I felt equipped to find answers to tricky questions such as why is the sky blue (it isn’t) why do stars twinkle (they don’t) and why does the longest day not have the most hours of daylight.

I recommend this book for your reference shelves – and would describe it as an ‘eye-opener’.

Buy Lights Fantastic at Amazon UK

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