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A strange phenomenon caused a ship to appear as if it were floating in the air off of England

By Jason Duaine Hahn
March 05, 2021 06:46 PM
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floating ship illusion.
Credit: DAVID MORRIS/APEX

A peculiar photograph that seemingly shows a gigantic ship floating in midair has a simple explanation, according to BBC meteorologist David Braine.

The picture, which can be seen above, was taken by Falmouth, Cornwall, resident David Morris. It appears to show a container ship in the distance somehow hovering above the water.

As Braine explains it, the occurrence — which he called a "superior mirage" — is caused by "special atmospheric conditions that bend light." These type of mirages are rare in the United Kingdom, but happen occasionally in the Arctic.

"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," Braine 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," he added.

A YouTube search of "superior mirage" brings up a small number of videos showing the illusion.

One seems to show large structures on the Lake Michigan horizon just before sunset, while another hosts a compilation of ocean mirages.

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"Superior mirages can produce a few different types of images," Braine said of the illusion.

"Here a distant ship appears to float high above its actual position, but sometimes an object below the horizon can become visible," he added of Morris' picture.

But the illusions don't stop there. Another type of phenomenon, known as an inferior mirage, is caused by cold air sitting above hot air, as noted by the New York Daily News. These type of mirages can typically be seen on hot pavement, which can cause someone to see a puddle that isn't really there.