This Is What It Looks Like When Google Maps Captures an Airplane in Flight

It's a digital “Where’s Waldo?” for aviation nerds.

Thanks to the internet, it’s possible to discover all sorts of unusual things about the world without ever leaving your house.

Somebody on Reddit found an uncommon image while perusing Google Maps. A satellite above Earth had captured a commercial plane flying over England.

The plane, operated by Virgin Atlantic, was headed West over South Downs National Park in the UK.

The photograph looks fairly normal until you zoom in closer. Upon close inspection, the plane appears to be a few different planes all in different colors. Or perhaps it’s a normal plane tricked out in a very cool, technicolor paint job. Unfortunately, it’s just an illusion caused by the photographic setup of satellite cameras.

Satellites above Earth work by taking separate photos that capture different “color bands” (red, green, and blue, primarily). However these frames are not shot simultaneously. And, in this particular instance, the Virgin Atlantic plane was flying faster than the satellite was able to capture the image — meaning that the different colors that appear are the plane’s flight path.

While capturing a plane on Google Earth imagery is very uncommon, it is not altogether rare. There are, on average, over 9,000 planes in the sky at any given time, after all. Just consider Google Maps plane hunting a digital “Where’s Waldo?” for aviation nerds.

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