Sunday night I was a passenger on AAL1500 KPHX/KDFW. At about 2135 CDT, from an altitude of 35,000 feet, I could see the lights of a city off the right side of the plane. It didn’t seem to be all that far off the flight path – miles away, but not that many.
Today I posted the 2135 position on Google Earth and went looking for the nearest city. Roswell, NM. GE’s line measurement tool showed Roswell to be 67 miles south of the flight track. The rounding of positional data to the nearest minute lat/lon indicates a potential rounding error of only about 1 mile.
I am more than surprised to get that kind of viewing distance at night from an altitude of about 7 miles.
My question to pilots is whether this seems reasonable or am I making some kind of naive error or assumption here. On a cloudless night, what would the normal distance to the horizon be from around 35,000 feet?