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The Sun Should Not Flicker!! February 1, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in life, travel.

I just flew over to Geneva from Seattle. I was seated right behind the wing, and the sun set behind us gave the clouds and the plane a fantastic color:


But here is the weird bit – the light on the bottom of that first cowling (??) was flickering – rapidly. I did my best to capture it with my camera’s video. Look at the end of the video. You can just make out some rapid flickering. It isn’t so obvious with the camera – but it was quite obvious looking out the window.

What causes that? We were in very smooth air at the time – so it couldn’t have been the bouncing of the plane. The only thing I could think of was there were some clouds on the horizon that were blowing by and obscuring the sun briefly. Unfortunately, without opening the plane door, I couldn’t check! Is that it?

Whatever it was – it was very spooky – the sun is supposed to be rock solid! 🙂


1. Dave Bacon - February 2, 2009

Could it be condensation of some sort due to a lowering of pressure around the “cowling”? Sort of like the vapor you sometimes see coming off the flaps during landing?

Or maybe it was the sun hitting the planes contrail?

2. Anonymous - February 2, 2009

Very large and fast changes in atmospheric index of refraction due to turbulence behind the wing. It is a much larger version of the same effect that causes stars to twinkle.

3. Anonymous - February 2, 2009

and those are fairings (of the flap-track variety), not cowlings. Was it a 767?

4. gordonwatts - February 2, 2009

“cowling” -> faring – yes, right. A cowling is around an engine (like on the prop crop duster type).

It was an Airbus. It was a 2 engine. It was a 330-300 perhaps?? I don’t totally remember, I’m afraid.

That is interesting — and you wouldn’t be suprised that that was occuring on only one of the fairings? I looked carefully but I only saw it…. hmmm — on the one closest to the engine. 🙂 Ok — this makes some sense, thanks!

5. Nobody - February 2, 2009

Were they serving free drinks on board? If so, could you please tell us which airline you flew with?

6. Gordon Watts - February 2, 2009

Free wine. I didn’t try for anything else. It was Luftanza…

7. Bob - August 17, 2011

I have sungazed for years and noticed how the solar disc appears to not only flicker, but also gyrates. It is no optical illusion as I have seen it through reflections and between tree branches. No one has been able to confirm what I see much less why it does this.

8. craig - July 19, 2016

I was just sat at my pc and I saw the sunlight flicker on a book right next to me, it was if the light was shining through a fan, I’d say it flickered at 5-10 hz, however the sun is reflected from an abandoned but secured building, I looked at the building and there was no sign of vibration and it’s only 50 ft away and I felt nor heard nothing

9. Paul M. Roe - February 10, 2017

The sun is flickering RIGHT NOW

10. George Walker - April 17, 2017

Saw it flickering and pulsating at sunset in Tn. on Easter Sunday April 2017. There was a smaller, reddish sun or planet, about half in size, directly below our Sun. Everything was clearly visible and witnessed by many in the neighborhood.

11. Sky Flashes, or "Blown Highlights"? Videos Claim to Show the Sun "Flickering" | Mysterious Universe - June 9, 2017

[…] February 1, 2009, appeared at the blog of physicist Gordon Watts, appropriately titled, “The Sun Should Not Flicker!“. As Watts recounts, while flying from Seattle to Geneva he described his observation of a […]

12. S. Mason - November 12, 2017

When I saw the headline “Life as a physicist, I assumed you were one. Not that you need to be to note there was something odd happening. There has been many, many versions of said “flickering, however, aside from the sciency lingo , it made no sense. I also noted that the episode was NOT covered mainstream media. Why, if it was noted many places, was the media not all over this? Anyways, I hope there are more and more people who begin to question what is going on in our world today. Maybe ‘flat earth ‘ has the answer?

13. Vince - January 3, 2020

I’ve seen this exact same thing with the sun behind me during a sunset. I also tried capturing it on video. I found this page trying to figure out what was going on with this phenomenon

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