Mind-bending pics show 'floating ships stacked on top of each other' in bizarre optical illusion

TWO ships looked as though they were stacked on top of each other in a mind-bending optical illusion.

The vessels were captured floating in Selsey, West Sussex, and left land-dwellers stunned on Monday morning.

The trick-of-the-eye is known as a mirage called a Fata Morgana.

It is created when the sun heats the atmosphere above either the land or the sea.

A layer of warmer air sits on top of a layer of cold air, causing the light from the ship to bend and making colours blend together.

For a Fata Morgana to appear, the atmospheric conditions have to be just right. 

It starts with a cold air mass close to the ground or surface of the water that is topped by a warm layer of air higher in the atmosphere.

And although the phenomenon can occur on land, they are more common at sea because water helps to form the cool air layer required.

It can warp, distort and obscure images – squashing them, making them blend into the horizon, or even producing chilling spooky inversions where a mirror image appears above the object.

Last month, a ship looked like it was floating above the water in Minster on Sea, Kent.

The ships appeared to be floating in the sky, well above the horizon and seemingly out of the water.

The same thing happened there back in April.

And one man in Falmouth, Cornwall, was left "extremely baffled" just weeks before when he spotted a large vessel apparently floating just above the waves.

Days earlier, several cruise ships were also seen "hovering" above the waters off the coast of Paignton, Devon.

BBC meteorologist David Braine said the phenomenon is caused by conditions in the atmosphere which bend light. 

"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," he said.

"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."

The mirage takes its name from Morgan le Fay – a sorceress from Arthurian legend – said to use her witchcraft to lure unwitting sailors into her traps. 

The mirage is thought to be the reason for sightings of the Flying Dutchman, a 17th century "ghost ship" doomed to sail the seas forever.

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