Mirages for everyone!

Unsuccessful do-it-yourself mirage #1
Claremont, California
3:30 p.m., July 27, 1997.

Once I learned a little about what causes a mirage, I figured I should be able to come up with a way of producing those conditions myself -voilá! Instant, portable mirage!

A few people have come up with ways to make your own mirage. Most of the suggestions, however, involved using gas burners to heat up steel rods or big metal plates and sounded either really difficult or really dangerous.

My first idea was to use a long piece of tar paper. I see lots of mirages on roads, and they happen on roads because the road surface is black, and absorbs and holds heat better than the air above the road. Tar paper is made out of felt soaked with asphalt, and I thought it would hold heat well.

I bought a 50-foot length of tar paper, loaded it into my car, and drove out to Claremont. where I thought the sun would be really bright. By the time we got to Claremont, the car smelled bad, the winds picked up and the clouds started to roll in.

As you can see in the photo, no mirages. The tar paper did heat up pretty quickly, but no mirages. Why do you think there weren't any? If I try this experiment again, what should I do differently?

Unsuccessful do-it-yourself mirage #2
Los Angeles, California
11:30 a.m., September 11, 1997.

After hearing about my unsuccessful attempt with the roll of tar paper, my friends Jay and Kit started thinking about how I could make my own mirage. When I told them what I had read about setting up gas burners and big sheets of metal, Kit and Jay immediately asked, "Well, why don't you just use a hot plate and a cookie sheet?"

I bought a hot plate, and hauled it, an extension cord, two cookie sheets, and some mostly plastic toys outside and set up on the driveway.

Lesson #1 - the dirt in the yard might look a lot like sand, but if you put a layer of it on a cookie sheet on a hot plate, you will realize just how much organic material is in it once it starts to smoke.

Lesson #2 - the smoking dirt on the cookie sheet is really hot, and even if you set the toy airplane on it really carefully to get just one picture before the whole thing goes up in flames, the plastic wheels of the toy airplane will still melt and smell really bad.

Once I got rid of the smoking dirt, things went better. The hot plate does really heat up the cookie sheet, and you do get some amazing heat interference, but by the time I got to this point, it was pretty windy. I thought I would try this experiment again early in the morning when it isn't windy and the air is cool. I won't use dirt next time, either.

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