Why are there so many ships ‘floating in the sky’ around Britain? Boats appear to be sailing in mid-air thanks to bizarre optical illusion
- Several boats appear to have been floating in the sky across the UK this week
- The rare phenomenon has been seen in Cornwall, Devon and Aberdeenshire
- Unusual sight is known as Fata Morgana, created by a temperature difference
People across Britain have been left confused this week as several ships appeared to be floating in mid air due to a rare optical illusion.
The unusual sight has been seen across the UK, with sightings in Cornwall, Devon and Aberdeenshire in just a matter of days.
The latest example was spotted by David Morris while he was out on a stroll in Gillan, near Falmouth, Devon.
Walker David Morris was out for a stroll in Gillan, Cornwall, when he spotted what appeared to be a boat floating above the sea
The postcard perfect photograph, taken from the beach at Paignton, Devon, captured the liners seemingly floating above the horizon
He said he was left ‘amazed and very baffled’ by the phenomenon which made it look as if a red liner was floating in the sky above the water.
Earlier this week in Paignton, Devon, a picturesque coastal snap depicted several liners which looked like they were hovering above the sea due to the phenomenon.
And on Friday in Banff, Aberdeenshire, health and safety worker Colin McCallum spotted another ship which looked to be flying and stopped to get a video of the unusual sight before investigating what caused the illusion.
The phenomenon, known as Fata Morgana, creates a mirage when the sun heats up the atmosphere above the land or the sea, which creates a gradient of temperatures.
A layer of warm air sits on top of a layer of cold air, causing the light from the ship to bend as it passes through gaps in air currents.
Speaking about the latest sighting in Cornwall, a spokesman for the Met Office said: ‘The images appear to show evidence of a phenomenon called fata morgana.
‘A rare and complex form of mirage in which horizontal and vertical distortion, inversion and elevation of objects occur in changing patterns.
‘The phenomenon occurs over a water surface and is produced by the superposition of several layers of air of different refractive index.’
Colin McCallum spotted a stunning optical illusion of a red ‘floating vessel’ on the horizon as he travelled through Banff, Aberdeenshire, on Friday
While sightings of superior mirages are often seen in the Arctic, they are uncommon in the UK, The Guardian reports.
David Braine, BBC meteorologist explained that the phenomenon is caused conditions in the atmosphere which bend light.
‘Superior mirages occur because of the weather condition known as a temperature inversion, where cold air lies close to the sea with warmer air above it,’ he said.
‘Since cold air is denser than warm air, it bends light towards the eyes of someone standing on the ground or on the coast, changing how a distant object appears.’
While there have been many examples of people spotting objects floating above the water, Mr Morris noted people have also witnessed items below the horizon which have then become visible due to the optical illusion.
What is a Fata Morgana?
A Fata Morgana is a type of mirage that distort distance objects, and can be can be seen on land or sea.
It’s caused when the sun heats up the atmosphere above the land or oceans, which creates a gradient of temperatures.
The air close to the surface is relatively cool and above that are layers of warmer air.
When light hits a boundary between two layers of the atmosphere that are different temperatures – and as a result different densities – it bends and travels at a different angle.
Our brain assumes that light travels in a straight paths, so when it bends, we think the object is where it would be if the light’s path runs straight.