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Sorry, everyone: those cool ‘rainbow cloud’ photos are (probably) fake

The ‘rainbow scarf cloud’ images from the Chinese city of Haikou are a bit too good to be true

Ed Cunningham
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Ed Cunningham
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Is it the end of times? A giant ball of fluorescent candy floss? A still from the latest Marvel flick? Nope: that’s a cloud which was – apparently – spotted on August 21 in the Chinese city of Haikou.

So what is it, exactly? Well, the official name of the formation is a ‘pileus cloud’ (sometimes called a ‘scarf cloud’) and it’s caused by air that rapidly rises and collides with cooler air higher up, resulting in a kind of round, pillow-like look. The colour then comes from light reflecting within the cloud’s ice crystals and water droplets.

Pileus clouds don’t usually last long and they often occur on stormy days – which is why this one, with such prime sunlight for the rainbow effect, appears to be so special. Here are a couple more shots and vids that have been shared of the cloud.

Now, if you’re thinking that those videos make the cloud look a bit too good to be true, well, you might actually be right. While the first picture (at the very top of the article) is a shot of a real scarf cloud, the rest of the videos and pictures may have been doctored. Booo!

According to a handy Twitter thread from hoax-spotting account HoaxEye, it looks as if someone’s used Photoshop to make the cloud look a bit more colourful than it actually was. A similar thread from Scottish meteorologist Scott Duncan went a step further and said the video might not be real at all and that a picture of a scarf cloud taken on August 16 in the Chinese city of Yunnan has likely been superimposed onto videos of Haikou. 

All of which is pretty silly – scarf clouds are, after all, more than spectacular enough on their own. For more info, you can read HoaxEye’s thread on the cloud videos here and Scott Duncan’s here. And keep watching the skies…

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