Speed and distance

During the flight down from Seattle to San Francisco this morning, I watched a commercial jet flying north, the opposite direction. It was moving fast, much faster than I'm used to seeing planes fly when watching from the ground.

Hard to say how far the fast jet was from where I sat, but, from its relative size in my eye, it looked farther than jets typically fly over Seattle approaching SeaTac.

I told myself that the fact that my plane was moving in the opposite direction accounted for (at least some of) the impression of the other jet's unusual speed. That is, although I felt I was viewing from a fixed position, in fact I was not. The two planes were pulling away from each other, but my eye was attributing all of the speed to the other plane.

But that other plane still looked like it was moving three times faster than normal.

Speed and distance

Some minutes later, I focused my attention to a dotted line of waves on the California coast. For many beats, they were as still in my eye as they are in this picture. Even when I finally picked up some movement, it was within a single wave, not the entire formation.

Weird. I know waves move slowly, even from the perspective of pier or beach, but I can't account for the perception of stasis from, what, 37,000 feet.

More notes from the plane trip: as we approached the San Francisco airport from the south, the plane rode along the edge of a cloud bank, such that I could see the bright sky and white topped surface of the clouds in the top half of the frame, as it were, and the marsh and muddy water of the overcast East Bay at the bottom. It was oddly beautiful, and a study in the diffraction of light.

I wished I had the gumption to snap a photo of that, but the protocol of course is to have your phone shut down during landing (think of all the landing photos that will be on Flickr once that rule is changed!). Then again, the camera wouldn't have been able to deal with the contrast.


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