# Why when you are high in the sky and looking from the window of an airplane, it seemed that it moves very slowly, but when starting to lose altitude to land, suddenly it feels that it moves much faster?

Asked by Ranimi23 (1856 ) August 2nd, 2010

I was looking from the window of my airplane all the time. When we were high above the clouds, we see very, very slow movement, well look down continents.

Only when starting down low creates a sense of speed suddenly more movement. How do I explain this?

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## 10 Answers

The farther you are from something, the slower it appears to move. The closer you are to something, the faster it appears to move. This probably has something to do with relative frames of reference.

jfos (7346 )
Your_Majesty (8207 )

In most aircraft, you are actually traveling faster at cruising altitude than when landing. The perception of speed is relative to the surface area of the earth you see below you. At altitude, you are moving against a background of hundreds of square miles, approaching the ground this decreases to less than a square mile just before landing.

@jfos , I was looking on the clouds that are very close to the airplane. It like I was losing the sense of movement.

Ranimi23 (1856 )

Draw a picture to illustrate this. The “angle of view” decreases the farther away you are, thus the perceived distance between point A and point B also decreases. But the vehicle speed is about the same. So in order to travel the same distance from point A to point B at the same speed, something has to accommodate. And that something is your sense of how fast you are going.

josie (20116 )

It’s the same as watching the contrails of a jet aircraft 40,000 ft above you. It seems to be crawling across the sky when it’s really traveling 600+ mph. Watching the same aircraft land, it seems to be traveling very fast, although actually it’s moving at less than a quarter of it’s cruising speed.

I’ve wondered about this myself, although more in the area of looking at a huge gas cloud in deep space. From Earth it doesn’t change for millions of years, but I’m sure if I were closer to it I’d be able to see the swirling and movement.

mrentropy (16091 )

As @josie says, it’s the angle of view.

30,000 feet altitude, 600 miles per hour (10 miles per minute.)
Your view might be 100 miles of land (this is a rough guess)
You travel 1/10th of the distance in a minute, which looks slow.

1,000 feet altitude, 600 mph (10 miles per minute)
Your view is 10 miles of land (again, this is a guess)
You travel the entire 10 miles in a minute, which looks very fast

jaytkay (21362 )

@Ranimi23

I think the clouds would be a misleading frame of reference – they are in a constant state of flux, and completely dependent on the air currents.

Seek_Kolinahr (25065 )

It’s all a matter of perspective.

syz (30120 )

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