Mankind is incredibly skilled at creating artificial objects and works of art. But while no one will argue the profoundness of the statue of David or the impressiveness of the Mount Rushmore, nothing beats the handiwork of Mother Nature.
Because while there are natural occurrences that can’t be explained, there are plenty of others that can be but still seem impossible. These 20 pictures of positively breathtaking natural phenomena show some of nature’s most unbelievable masterpieces — and a little bit about what makes our world go ’round, too…
1. These hills called the Rainbow Mountains are part of China’s Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park. We don’t have to wonder how they got their nickname: it looks like Mother Nature brushed over this area with every color of paint in her palette.
2. We’d expect a monkey to climb trees and steep hills, but to see a goat do it is something else entirely. How do they manage to get all the way up there on just their hooves? They have to be magic, right?
3. What you see here isn’t Photoshop — well, maybe a little, but it is a real image. This shows the Milky Way on a clear starry night over the three pyramids in Giza, Egypt. The pyramids may be an official World Wonder, but the whole galaxy seems like a miracle.
4. That is a real-life, fully-grown, powerful tiger climbing through the kitchen window. The movie Roar became notorious for its troubled 11-year production, which resulted in 70 members of its cast and crew being injured by the many predatory animals used in the film.
5. The crazy thing about ball lightning is that scientists still haven’t been able to explain how it works. These strikes last a lot longer than a regular lightning flash, then they eventually explode. For your own safety, steer clear of this phenomenon.
6. This adorable brown panda is the only one of its kind. Qizai was abandoned by his mother and rejected by other pandas but was saved by humans. He’s a bit slow, but his caretakers do have hopes of finding him a friend. For now, Qizai is loving life and defying the odds!
7. This cloud formation is called an Undulatus asperatus, meaning agitated waves, but its occurrence is so rare that it wasn’t named until 2011. These clouds are mainly found above the plains in the U.S.
8. This is the largest manta ray ever seen, measuring almost 20 feet from left to right. It weighed over 5,000 pounds but was somehow caught by accident when it got stuck in an anchor line in 1933. You definitely wouldn’t want to get stung by this bad boy.
9. It’s often said that you shouldn’t stand under a tree during a lightning storm, and now you can see why. This is a long-exposure image showing how the electrical currents affect the tree and its roots. Just stay in an open field instead!
10. Most jaguars show a mostly golden-colored fur with brown spots surrounded by black lines, but black jags are, as you can probably guess, a lot more black, and with very little brown or golden tone. They can only be bred by two black jags, but don’t worry: this black cat doesn’t bring bad luck.
11. Can you hear a voice coming from this branch? It’s singing “I’m a chameleon!” While chameleons can be extremely colorful when they feel like it, they can also adjust their appearances to fit right in with their environments. This one must have decided to be a leaf today.
12. It’s fascinating how smart or silly our pets can be. Their adventures are often hilarious, especially if you’re a cat or dog lover. These Dobermans surely won’t spot this kitty if he just holds really still…or at least we hope so.
13. Any tornado is scary, but this??? These are not the clouds that come with a tornado… this is the tornado. Most twisters stay under 110 miles per hour, but the most severe can speed up to 300 miles per hour. Don’t get swept away in the terror, though: they can be detected long before they arrive.
14. Most people who interact with a polar bear mother don’t live to tell the story, but somehow this mom and her cubs were very friendly to this Soviet soldier. Unless of course, that little one is actually gnawing through his leg! (But we’ll assume that it’s a gentle nibble).
15. You would think different waters would just blend with each other, but it’s quite the opposite: differences in density and saltiness cause them to clash, leading to this strange-looking border. You can see where the Pacific and Arctic oceans meet in the Gulf of Alaska.
16. Crocodiles are pretty frightening, but an anaconda throwing back an entire croc is straight up terrifying. If the croc didn’t make it, what chance would we have? Be ready for anything when you visit Australia, but for goodness’ sake, stay out of these waters.
17. Don’t worry arachnophobes, Australia has something for you, too. This is not a pretty blanket of snow, but the result of heavy flooding. Spiders weren’t fans of the water and used their webs like air balloons to evacuate the area. When they landed, it literally rained spiders and white webs.
18. This is another case of “looks like Photoshop, but it’s real!” It was taken by Doug Perrine in the Maldives when currents or waves disturbed microscopic plankton. The bioluminescent bacteria glowed a soft blue, creating what sailors used to call “Milky Seas.”
19. These are not two separate pictures! The shoreline of this lake is so smooth that it creates an optical illusion. This magical place is in Banff National Park in Canada, which is the country’s oldest national park.
20. Snow and ice are pretty cool (if you don’t have to shovel your driveway), but blue ice looks even more impressive. When snowfall is compressed into a glacier, it begins to absorb colors like yellow, red, and green, leaving a blue hue. That’s also why the ocean is blue!