The floating ship optical illusion just keeps on giving

The internet loves a good old optical illusion, and we've seen all sorts of weird and wonderful examples over the past few months. But while most are digital creations, every now and again an example appears out in the wild – and these incredible 'floating' ships might just be the most mind-boggling phenomenon we've seen.

Last week, a walker was stunned to see a boat hovering above the water in Cornwall, and a photo of his discovery quickly went viral. And as if that wasn't enough, a second example of the rare illusion has just emerged. At this rate, 'ability to capture floating ships' might need introducing as a criteria for our best cameras list.

Floating ship optical illusion

David Morris spotted the illusion in Cornwall (Image credit: David Morris)

According to the BBC, David Morris was "stunned" when he noticed a giant tanker floating above the water (above) as he looked out to sea from a house in Falmouth. But it turns out the effect is an example of a rare optical illusion known as a 'superior mirage' (we were rather hoping for 'Floaty McBoatFace').

“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," according to David Braine, a BBC meteorologist. "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."

So, in short, cold air + warmer sea = floating ships. A second superior mirage was spotted by Facebook user Dave Medlock this week, who shared an image of an apparently levitating cruise liner in Devon (below).

Floating boat optical illusion

A second sighting of a floating boat (Image credit: Dave Medlock on Facebook)

We've been flummoxed by illusions in the past, including rotating cubes that aren't actually rotating, and falling people who aren't actually falling, but this real-world example might just be the best we've seen. Indeed, if we do happen spot a floating boat on our travels any time soon, there are probably a few things we'll shout involuntarily before realising, "ah, yes, that's a superior mirage".

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Daniel John
Senior News Editor

Daniel John is Senior News Editor at Creative Bloq. He reports on the worlds of art, design, branding and lifestyle tech (which often translates to tech made by Apple). He joined in 2020 after working in copywriting and digital marketing with brands including ITV, NBC, Channel 4 and more.