'Flying' ship phenomenon a-lights off Cork coast 

The superior mirage phenomenon could be the explanation for some of the most notorious 'ghost ships' in sea folklore, such as the Flying Dutchman
'Flying' ship phenomenon a-lights off Cork coast 

The photo taken by Dr Maria Kirrane, UCC sustainability officer, off the Fountainstown coast back in October showing the 'flying ship' phenomenon, which scientists say is a "superior mirage" caused by special conditions in the atmosphere.

The 'flying ship' phenomenon that went viral around the world with a natural trick of the light has now reached Irish shores with a similarly bamboozling picture taken off the Cork coast.

University College Cork (UCC) sustainability officer, Dr Maria Kirrane, was on a leisurely stroll with her newborn baby when she came across the strangest of sights near Fountainstown.

The picture that Dr Kirrane took appears to show a tanker floating above the water, similar to the one that David Morris took near Cornwall, just off the southwestern British coast.

The picture that Mr Morris took made headlines around the world as scientists explained why our eyes saw something that did not seem possible - a ship seemingly hovering in mid-air.

Dr Kirrane said she thought little of the ship off Fountainstown at the time back in October, until she realised upon seeing the David Morris photograph that it was a relatively unusual phenomenon.

It is caused by a so-called 'superior mirage', which is when the mirage appears above where the object in question should actually be.

While common in the Arctic circle, it is rarely seen in winter months off coastlines here, according to BBC meteorologist David Braine.

It happens when special conditions in the atmosphere cause light to bend, he told the British broadcaster.

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.

"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.

"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," Mr Braine said.

According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the superior mirage is different to the type of mirage that most people have experienced in everyday life, such as water appearing to be on the horizon as you are driving on a hot day.

"The most common inferior mirage is that seen over a hot road surface or a desert surface, giving the illusion of an area of water on the surface. It is caused by the upward refraction of light from the clear sky towards the observer. 

"In an inferior mirage, the image of a distant object is displaced downwards - for example, light from the sky appears as though it is water on the ground."

The superior mirage phenomenon could be the explanation for some of the most notorious 'ghost ships' in sea folklore, such as the Flying Dutchman.

The legend of the Flying Dutchman suggests that the supernatural ship was doomed at sea, unable to sail home for eternity. The 18th century ship has been used as a terrifying mariner's tale, with death waiting for all those who saw the ghostly apparition. 

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