Auckland's Sky Tower is an optical illusion, scientist finds

An Auckland University scientist has discovered what he says is something particularly strange about the city's iconic Sky Tower - it's an optical illusion.  

Taller than the Eiffel Tower at 328 metres, the building has long been the focal point of Auckland's skyline - but there's something fishy about the needle in the sky.   

You may have already noticed the optical illusion yourself: in a nutshell, from far away, it appears there isn't another building in Auckland's central business district that comes close to the height of the Sky Tower. But come a little closer, and scientists say the building looks somewhat short - and stumpy.

When you get to the base of the tower, however, it once again appears impressively tall. 

"I was quite fascinated by this, so I wanted to know - why is this happening?" Sam Schwarzkopf, an associate professor of optometry and vision sciences, told Newshub.  

Schwarzkopf said when he arrived in Auckland six years ago, he noticed the illusion too.

To investigate, he took images of the tower to his optometry students for a survey.  

"We asked them several questions about each picture and we used modern scientific methods to estimate the perception people have of the tower - and that confirmed a similar thing that distance makes a difference," he said.

In some ways, the illusion has been likened to the moon: how at times it can seem enormous and other times, not so much.   

"A similar effect could be happening with the Sky Tower, but it should happen with lots of tall buildings when you see them far away. But you don't notice it as much, so that's clearly not the whole answer.  

"What really causes it will require further study. But this was the necessary first step to establish that it's really happening," Schwarzkopf said.