China’s “floating city in the sky” was obviously an illusion, but what the heck was it?

Amy X. Wang

An alien city? A parallel universe? A message from ghosts?

Earlier this month, thousands of residents in Jiangxi and Foshan, two southern Chinese cities, reported seeing a huge city—filled with shadowy skyscrapers—hovering ominously in the sky clear above them. The phenomenon, recorded by Chinese media in the video below, has sparked a spate of conspiracy theories.

Many theories center around “Project Blue Beam,” a suspected plot by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to establish a new world order by either simulating an alien invasion of Earth or a projecting a second coming of Christ. Others say China was trying to gauge the public’s reaction to its own “top secret holographic technology.”

But what was it, really?

Meteorologists say the floating city was likely a Fata Morgana: A type of optical illusion that distorts distant objects, caused by the warming of the atmosphere above land or oceans. Atmospheric scientist Kenneth Bowman of Texas A&M University explained the phenomenon in detail to the Christian Science Monitor.

A vertical gradient of temperatures from cool land to hot air can bend light at an angle, which tricks viewers into seeing objects where they don’t belong. In this case, distant skyscrapers appeared to be hovering in the sky, when in fact they were sitting calmly on the far horizon.

Fata Morganas, named after the enchantress from the tales of King Arthur, are also believed to be behind the legend of the Flying Dutchman ghost ship.

Still, that explanation hasn’t dampened conspiracy fever. One proponent of the NASA “blue beam” theory has already garnered over 4 million views on YouTube.

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