They look like the wrath of Hades and Poseidon combined, but these beautiful, fiery clouds, captured by Breckenridge Resort in Colorado, have a simple physical explanation, and it’s rooted in fluid dynamics.

Advertisement

The Kelvin-Helmholtz instability creates one of the most ubiquitous patterns in nature—a series of breaking ocean waves that curl over themselves again and again. It starts with a velocity difference between two fluid layers, which causes unequal shear at their interface. This instability results in turbulent flow, which manifests as a series of overturning whorls. The resultant pattern, which can be seen in Saturn’s bands, Jupiter’s red spot, and the surface of the Sun, is often stunning.

Image Credit: Breckenridge Resort ‏via Twitter