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Check Out This Crazy Mirage Of The Chicago Skyline At Sunset

By Mae Rice in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 25, 2016 7:21PM

A mirage version of Chicago's skyline (photo by Seth Brown)

St. Joseph, Michigan, is far enough from Chicago that residents shouldn’t physically be able to see any of Chicago’s skyline, St. Joseph resident Seth Brown told Chicagoist.

He estimates the two cities are 60 miles apart as the crow flies.

Maybe someone with great eyesight could catch a glimpse of our five or six tallest downtown buildings, Brown said, but it’s “nearly impossible.”

Nevertheless, just after sunset on Feb. 20, Brown, 33, snapped the above photo from a viewing deck in St. Joseph’s Lookout Park, a narrow Lakeshore property. It shows the Chicago skyline—though so small, it’s a bit hard to recognize. Here’s another version of the photo, with key landmarks labeled:

View post on

Brown attributes the photo primarily to a “skyline ‘mirage’ phenomenon.” Via email, Brown explained the scientific phenomenon, and how it affected his photo as follows:

When we see weather conditions featuring extremely clear/dry air, and a temperature inversion caused by warm air higher above cold air closer to the surface of the lake, this situation creates the mirage of seeing a "skyline" when in fact only the tips of the tallest five or six buildings downtown should be visible. This explains why, in the photo, you will notice taller buildings look less distorted than shorter ones. Shorter buildings are actually a mirage while taller buildings create silhouettes which are actually visible by direct line of [sight]. So... my photo is actually a combination of "real" and mirage.
Brown’s photo looks fairly realistic, but if you doubt the mirage phenomenon is real, you can see a more surreal version of this phenomenon in this YouTube clip:

If you look closely, Brown’s photo above has surreal elements, too—though not as prominent as the video's.

“[D]istortion has created a skyline in which buildings surrounding Willis Tower look only marginally shorter,” Brown said, “when in fact Willis Tower is significantly taller than surrounding buildings.”

Brown would know—he’s something of a skyline sighting hobbyist. “I have made a habit of viewing most sunsets where conditions for spotting are good,” he said.

[h/t Reddit]