During a transatlantic flight, watching the progress of your singular airplane as it moves across the Earth on the in-flight animation screen can be fascinating. But what about all of the other flights out there? This video, made by air-traffic-control company NATS, visualizes 24 hours of flight data for every plane on the European flight path. Extracted from one period in July 2013, it resembles an enchanted celestial spider web spreading over the continent.
A fleet of planes shoots over the Atlantic Ocean like blue comets through a network of airways, then intersects in a criss-crossing frenzy of thousands of planes. Heathrow, the busiest international airport in Europe, and Gatwick, London’s second-largest airport, appear as luminescent white blobs.
Controlling what goes on in the skies is a complicated business: On average, about 26,000 flights a day soar over Europe, according to data reported by Eurocontrol. NATS is responsible for moving more than 6,000 of those flights every day (2.2 million a year) in and out of the U.K. safely. They do this by allocating different heights to each aircraft and by stacking them via minimal distances: planes have to be five nautical miles apart horizontally or at least 1,000 feet vertically. This video turns that science of air-traffic control into an artful symphony of light.