Video footage of a floating city in China is going viral across the globe and thousands of people have remained incredulous at the astonishing sight that appears to be a towering city of skyscrapers. The appearance of the floating city has sparked all kinds of theories, and some even believe that this is proof of the so-called Project Blue Beam, a conspiracy theory started several years ago, which claims that NASA has plans to simulate an alien invasion of Earth, or do a sort of second coming of Christ using holograms.
— Doubtful News (@DoubtfulNews) October 19, 2015
According to the Daily Mail, the floating city was seen by thousands of residents in Jiangxi and Foshan, which is located in southeastern part of the country. Photos of the event have been heavily circulated around social media networks, and many viewers have agreed upon the belief that the sky had created a portal to a parallel universe. However, experts have understood that in reality what looks like a dimensional portal to another world, is actually a very special optical illusion.
Thousands of residents of Jiangxi and Foshan of China claim they have seen a 'floating city' in the sky pic.twitter.com/kc2vsj1yUf
— People's Daily,China (@PDChina) October 18, 2015
The phenomenon is known as Fata Morgana. It is an incredibly complex mirage that distorts distant objects, and can be seen on land or sea. The name is inspired by Celtic mythology, according to which the fairy Morgana induced visions of fantastic castles in the air or on the ground to attract sailors and lure them to their death.
Wikipedia defines the term as “an unusual and complex form of superior mirage that is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon.”
The mirage is the result of the refraction of light and how it is interpreted by the brain and it occurs when the sun heats the atmosphere above land or the oceans, creating a temperature gradient. The air close to the surface is relatively cool and, above this, there are layers of warmer air. When the light hits the boundary between two layers of different temperatures – and therefore with different density – light bends and travels at a different angle. Our brain assumes that light travels along a straight path. Therefore, when it bends, it thinks the object is where it would be if the light path was straight.
Some conspiracy theorists have even suggested that the mysterious apparition was the result of a special holographic experiment done to test people’s reactions. In the case of the flying city in China, the light reflected from the skyscrapers is bent downwards as it passes through the cooler air. Since, as said above, our brain sees the object as if the light were traveling in a different path, making the distant skyscrapers appear taller than they are.
In the past, the occurrence of a Fata Morgana has inspired numerous legends, such as the legendary Flying Dutchman, which is said to be a ghost ship that can never go home, and is doomed to sail the oceans forever. As pointed out in an article from Wired, Father Domenico Giardina, a Jesuit Priest, was witnessing a Fata Morgana in 1643 when he described seeing a “city all floating in the air, and so measureless and so splendid, so adorned with magnificent buildings, all of which was found on a base of a luminous crystal.”
The name in Italian with which defines the phenomenon is in use worldwide, because it is a mirage typical of the Strait of Messina. The best known legend of the Fata Morgana occurred in Calabria, Italy. It is said that the Barbarian King was deceived by its legendary fairy Morgana. While in Calabria, this beautiful fairy made it appear as though the Sicilian coast was only a few meters away. So, believing he could reach the coast, the king dived into the water and ended up drowning from exhaustion.
[Image via YouTube screenshot]