Flickering Lights As Seen From The Air

01 Sep 2022 • Savraj Singh

I love a good window seat. If you happen to be flying in the evening or night, you get to see the world below – all the cars, highways, buildings, and lights. You may notice an interesting effect, some terrestrial lights seem to flicker oddly and rapidly. This happens anywhere in your field of view of the ground, regardless of whether you are looking through the jet-engine’s air stream.

The lights – street lights, lights on buildings and homes – rapidly flicker on and off with different and non-constant frequencies. Interestingly, they are adjacent to other lights that remain constant, and I’ve only rarely seen this flickering on the ground. But from the air, it seems like it’s all over the place. Dozens if not hundreds of oddly flickering lights.

After thinking about it, I think these lights are obscured by tree branches – and the light is flashing as the branches pass between me and the light source.

Effects of the air medium are discounted as non-flashing lights are adjacent to flashing lights (tree branches obscure one light and not the other) and it happens whether the light rays are incident on the jet engine’s hot air stream or not.

It’s unlikely to be “just broken lights flickering” as they are far more common as seen from the air than the ground.

So that’s my conclusion. The next time you’re flying at night near a city, look out for the ocassional rapidly flickering lights – the flickering comes from branches and brush interrupting the light rays. Thanks for reading.