We present diagrams that show how layers in atmospheric thermal structure are related to the altitudes at which they are seen tangentially. These dip diagrams show that the inferior mirage greatly magnifies the apparent angular size of the lowest few centimeters of atmosphere. Conversely, inversion layers below eye level are compressed—even to zero apparent thickness, in ducts. The diagrams show that, even when distant objects are miraged, the ray crossings occur beyond the lowest point on each ray where the line of sight is tangent to a horizontal surface in the atmosphere. Therefore the apparent altitudes of these tangent points are a monotonic function of their actual heights in the atmosphere. This monotonicity explains an apparent paradox in low-Sun images.
© 1998 Optical Society of America
Andrew T. Young and George W. Kattawar, "Sunset Science. II. A useful diagram," Appl. Opt. 37, 3785-3792 (1998)