Earthquake Lights

earthquake-lights

For centuries, eyewitnesses have occasionally reported seeing an inexplicable phenomenon minutes before, during or after an earthquake: strange bright lights in the sky.

[A] team of scientists [led] by Robert Thériault analyzed the geologic circumstances of 65 earthquakes starting in the year 1600 that produced reports of light to see what these events had in common.

“The process starts deep in the crust, where rocks are subjected to high stress levels, prior to the stress being released to produce an earthquake,” [Robert] Thériault says. In certain types of rock, [study co-author Friedemann] Freund has shown in lab experiments, this stress can break apart pairs of negatively-charged oxygen atoms that are linked together in peroxy bonds.

When this happens, each of the oxygen ions are released, and these can flow through cracks in the rock, towards the surface. At that point, the thinking goes, high-density groups of these charged atoms will ionize pockets of air, forming a charged gas (a plasma) that emits light.

It’s useful as well to note that these “earthquake lights” only appear during – or before – an earthquake, meaning they represent a possible early warning in those cases where this phenomenon occurs.

Via Smithsonian for the full article.

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About Heretic

I design video games for a living, write fiction, political theory and poetry for personal amusement, and train regularly in Western European 16th century swordwork. On frequent occasion I have been known to hunt for and explore abandoned graveyards, train tunnels and other interesting places wherever I may find them, but there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that I am preparing to set off a zombie apocalypse. Nothing that will stand up in court, at least. I use paranthesis with distressing frequency, have a deep passion for history, anthropology and sociological theory, and really, really, really hate mayonnaise. But I wash my hands after the writing. Promise.

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