A man has photographic evidence of a floating ship!6 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
When David Morris stepped out for a stroll with his dog last month, he was unassumingly walking in the beautiful English countryside. Morris was busy thanking his stars for the wonders of nature that surrounded him as he looked out into the horizon. However, that was when he saw something absolutely and completely mind-boggling. David saw, with his own eyes, a ship floating mid-air over the horizon. He rubbed his eyes and checked again. The gigantic sea-vessel was most definitely there. It couldn’t be… was his mind playing tricks on him?
He whipped out his camera to make sure that it wasn’t. Lo and behold! The ship was still mid-air. A huge, massive vessel-just hanging there. Was this a supernatural event? Had the aliens touched-down?
After some social media frenzy and general speculation, it turned out that it was a simple optical illusion. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait to befriend the Martians. That photograph is a product of nature. It is one of nature’s most notorious ruses: The mirage. So, how does it work? Let’s get into it.
The mirage is an optical illusion created by the refraction (bending) of light. To understand mirages, we must be clear on a few things.
1) Light always travels the route that takes the shortest time, not the shortest distance.
2) Brains, and as it turns out, cameras are programmed to believe that light always travels the shortest distance, which also happens to be a straight line.
3) Light travels fastest through substances that have the lowest density.
4) Cold air is denser than warm air.
The path of the photons in light waves bends based on the density of the air. Most of the time, the air temperature in one region is uniform and therefore, light travels in a straight line. But, sometimes, there are fluctuations in temperature. One part of the air is significantly warmer or colder than the neighbouring atmosphere. Then, the light bends to take the shortest route to your eye. However, since our brain, while processing what we see, cannot take this bending into account, things go awry. Objects look bendy, wavy, closer or farther. Essentially, things get wonky. Sometimes we see things that aren’t there at all!
A Classic Mirage
Have you ever driven on the road on a hot day and felt as though you saw a pool of water ahead of you. The only problem is that when you reach this pool, you find nothing at all. That is a classic example of a mirage. What you see is really the sky on the horizon. What? Where did the sky come into all of this?
Well, the light rays from the sky ahead of you get bent downwards towards the less-dense and easier to navigate, warmer air directly above the scorching road. So, instead of travelling straight to your eye, the rays bend downwards. When the photons in the light ray bend down and then reflect up into your eye, you still believe that the light is coming via the shortest distance. So you mentally draw a straight line to the point where the light ray refracted back towards your eye. This happens to be in the warm air just above the road. That point above the road is precisely where you see the sky. Your brain knows that the sky could not have come down to the road, so it intuitively assumes that the sky is being reflected in a pool of water, and that is why you see a mirage. Sometimes, your brain is just too intelligent for its own good.
Usually, we encounter mirages like the pool on the road. They are known as inferior mirages. These optical illusions are caused by hotter air closer to the surface of the earth. However, occasionally, particularly in Arctic conditions, a different phenomenon occurs. It is known as ‘The Superior Mirage’.
What David saw that day was a superior mirage. This was caused by the extremely cold temperature of the water in the English countryside. Usually, the air gets cooler as you go higher but, on that day, the freezing water cooled the air right above it to a lower temperature than the air up higher. The dense cold air made the photons’ path to David’s eye long and drudgy. So, the light rays bend sharply against the coldest air and curve to each his eye. However, his brain and camera being the sticklers that they are, assumed the light was coming in a straight line. So the ship itself seemed to float in the warmer air above the water. It’s just simple physics.
I know that wasn’t nearly as fun as a ghost or alien ship, but don’t lose hope. You must remain on the lookout. Here’s a tip as you hunt.
With Excerpts From: The New York Times, The Guardian, ScientificAmerican, Britannica, CBSNews