Home SCIENCE Is This Boat Floating In Mid-Air? No! But Here’s Why It Looks...

Is This Boat Floating In Mid-Air? No! But Here’s Why It Looks That Way

A Fata Morgana is an unusual and complex form of superior mirage that is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon. It is the Italian name for the Arthurian sorceress Morgan le Fay, from a belief that these mirages, often seen in the Strait of Messina, were fairy castles in the air or false land created by her witchcraft to lure sailors to their deaths.

image credit: SC

Although the term Fata Morgana is sometimes applied to other, more common kinds of mirages, the true Fata Morgana is different from both an ordinary superior mirage and an inferior mirage.

image credit: SC

Fata Morgana mirages significantly distort the object or objects on which they are based, often such that the object is completely unrecognizable. A Fata Morgana can be seen on land or at sea, in polar regions or in deserts. It can involve almost any kind of distant object, including boats, islands and the coastline.


A Fata Morgana is often rapidly changing. The mirage comprises several inverted (upside down) and erect (right side up) images that are stacked on top of one another. Fata Morgana mirages also show alternating compressed and stretched zones.

image credit: SC

The optical phenomenon occurs because rays of light are bent when they pass through air layers of different temperatures in a steep thermal inversion where an atmospheric duct has formed.

A thermal inversion is an atmospheric condition where warmer air exists in a well-defined layer above a layer of significantly cooler air. This temperature inversion is the opposite of what is normally the case; air is usually warmer close to the surface, and cooler higher up.