Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

‘Floating’ ship spotted off Cornwall coast

Rare optical illusion left photographer ‘stunned’

Liam James
Saturday 06 March 2021 17:56 GMT
A tanker appears to float above the sea when viewed from the Cornwall coast
A tanker appears to float above the sea when viewed from the Cornwall coast (David Morris/APEX)

A large tanker appeared to be floating off the south coast of England in an optical illusion caused by a rare weather phenomenon.

David Morris was walking along the coast by Falmouth in Cornwall when he spotted the extraordinary optical illusion.

He captured it on camera and later said he was "stunned" by the sight.

The phenomenon is known as a "superior mirage", according to BBC meteorologist David Braine, who said the ship appeared to be floating due to "special atmospheric conditions that bend light".

Mr Braine said the mirage is common in the Arctic circle but can only very rarely be seen during the UK in winter.

He said: "Superior mirages occur because of the weeather condition known as a temperature inversion."

Usually the air temperature drops as altitude rises, hence the peak of Ben Nevis being colder than Bournemouth beach, but in a temperature inversion warm air sits on top of a band of cold air and plays with the human eye's perception.

"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 distant an object appears," Mr Braine said.

"Superior mirages can produce a few different types of images, here a distant ship appears to float high above its actual position, but sometimes an object below the horizon can become visible."

A similar sight was spottedin Banff, Aberdeenshire earlier in the week by Colin McCallum, who shared his photo online with the caption: “Floating boat”.

He was not fooled however, despite doing a “double-take”, and explained the phenomenon to viewers.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in