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A Spellbinding Look at 24 Hours of European Flight Paths

Europe's airplane activity in this visualization looks like a hive of angry, electrified bees.

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NATS

What does a full day of flight paths over Europe look like? Sort of like an immense rave on the cloud tops, according to this trippy visualization that might have you reaching for glow sticks and PLURRing in no time.

The short animation depicts 24 hours of flight data extracted from one period in July, 2013. Planes launch over the Atlantic from North America like rockets spewing blue fire; they eventually join a scrambling hive of activity swirling over Europe's various airports. Glowing nodules depict especially active hubs near London – like Heathrow, the busiest international airport on the Continent, and Gatwick, said to be the most efficient single-runway airport in existence.

Just how many flights are typically whizzing over Europe? Including business aviation and all-cargo journeys, it's about 26,000 flights a day by 2010 calculations, according to EUROCONTROL. In the U.K., a big chunk of this volume is handled by the air traffic-control company NATS, which made this visualization. The workers at NATS typically handle more than 6,000 flights a day. If you're wondering what that entails, here's a description:

UK airspace contains a network of corridors, or airways. These are usually ten miles wide and reach up to a height of 24,000 feet from a base of between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. They mainly link busy areas of airspace known as terminal control areas, which are normally above major airports. At a lower level, control zones are established around each airport. The area above 24,500 feet is known as upper airspace. All of these airways are designated "controlled airspace".

Aircraft fly in them under the supervision of air traffic controllers and pilots are required to file a flight plan for each journey, containing details such as destination, route, timing and height.

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