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Ship Hovers Above Sea

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

Walker encounters rare optical illusion known as superior mirage while out on coastal stroll in Cornwall.

There are only so many polite words that one might mutter, or shout, when one spots a giant tanker apparently hovering above the sea whilst strolling along a coastal path. David Morris, who captured the extraordinary sight on camera, declared himself “stunned” when he noticed a ship floating above the water as he looked out to sea near Falmouth in Cornwall, on the tip of England's south west coast.

The effect is an example of an optical illusion known as a superior mirage. Such illusions are reasonably common in the Arctic but can also happen in UK winters when the atmospheric conditions are just right - though they are very rare.

The illusion is caused by a meteorological phenomenon called a temperature inversion.

Normally, the air temperature drops with increasing altitude, making mountaintops colder than the foothills. But in a temperature inversion, warm air sits on top of a band of colder air, playing havoc with our visual perception. The inversion in Cornwall was caused by chilly air lying over the relatively cold sea with warmer air above, creating the illusion.


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