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A collection of intriguing topics and fascinating stories

about the rare, the paranormal, and the strange

Volume 16

Discover natures weirdest and longest-lived creatures.
Jump into the world of lost civilizations and extinct animal kingdom.
Discover mysterious places and bizarre natural phenomenon.

Pablo C. Agsalud Jr.
Revision 6


In the past, things like television, and words and
ideas like advertising, capitalism, microwave and
cancer all seemed too strange for the ordinary

As man walks towards the future, overloaded with
information, more mysteries have been solved
through the wonders of science. Although some
things remained too odd for science to reproduce
or disprove, man had placed them in the gray
areas between truth and skepticism and labeled
them with terminologies fit for the modern age.

But the truth is, as long as the strange and
unexplainable cases keep piling up, the more likely
it would seem normal or natural. Answers are
always elusive and far too fewer than questions.
And yet, behind all the wonderful and frightening
phenomena around us, it is possible that what we
call mysterious today wont be too strange

This book might encourage you to believe or refute
what lies beyond your own understanding.
Nonetheless, I hope it will keep you entertained
and astonished.

The content of this book remains believable for as
long as the sources and/or the references from the
specified sources exist and that the validity of the
information remains unchallenged.

Mysterious Natural Phenomenon

The following pages contain some of the most intriguing natural
phenomenon that has been observed in some parts of the globe.


An aurora (plural: auroras or aurorae) is a
natural light display in the sky particularly in
the high latitude (Arctic and Antarctic)
regions, caused by the collision of energetic
charged particles with atoms in the high
altitude atmosphere (thermosphere). The
charged particles originate in the
magnetosphere and solar wind and are
directed by the Earth's magnetic field into the
atmosphere. Aurora is classified as diffuse or
discrete aurora. Most aurorae occur in a band
known as the auroral zone which is typically
3 to 6 in latitudinal extent and at all local
times or longitudes. The auroral zone is typically 10 to 20 from the magnetic pole defined by
the axis of the Earth's magnetic dipole. During a geomagnetic storm, the auroral zone will
expand to lower latitudes. The diffuse aurora is a featureless glow in the sky which may not be
visible to the naked eye even on a dark night and defines the extent of the auroral zone. The
discrete aurora are sharply defined features within the diffuse aurora which vary in brightness
from just barely visible to the naked eye to bright enough to read a newspaper at night.
Discrete aurorae are usually observed only in the night sky because they are not as bright as
the sunlit sky. Aurorae occur occasionally poleward of the auroral zone as diffuse patches or
arcs (polar cap arcs) which are generally invisible to the naked eye.

In northern latitudes, the effect is known as the aurora borealis (or the northern lights),
named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind,
Boreas, by Pierre Gassendi in 1621. Auroras seen near the magnetic pole may be high
overhead, but from farther away, they illuminate the northern horizon as a greenish glow or
sometimes a faint red, as if the Sun were rising from an unusual direction. Discrete aurorae
often display magnetic field lines or curtain-like structures, and can change within seconds or
glow unchanging for hours, most often in fluorescent green. The aurora borealis most often
occurs near the equinoxes. The northern lights have had a number of names throughout
history. The Cree call this phenomenon the "Dance of the Spirits". In Europe, in the Middle
Ages, the auroras were commonly believed a sign from God (see Wilfried Schrder, Das
Phnomen des Polarlichts, Darmstadt 1984).

Its southern counterpart, the aurora australis (or the southern lights), has almost identical
features to the aurora borealis and changes simultaneously with changes in the northern
auroral zone and is visible from high southern latitudes in Antarctica, South America and

Aurorae occur on other planets. Similar to the Earth's aurora, they are visible close to the
planet's magnetic poles.

Modern style guides recommend that the names of meteorological phenomena, such as aurora
borealis, be uncapitalized.

Auroral mechanism

Auroras are result from emissions of photons in the Earth's upper atmosphere, above 80 km
(50 mi), from ionized nitrogen atoms regaining an electron, and oxygen and nitrogen atoms
returning from an excited state to ground state. They are ionized or excited by the collision of
solar wind and magnetospheric particles being funneled down and accelerated along the
Earth's magnetic field lines; excitation energy is lost by the emission of a photon of light, or by
collision with another atom or molecule:

oxygen emissions

Green or brownish-red, depending on the amount of energy absorbed.

nitrogen emissions

Blue or red. Blue if the atom regains an electron after it has been ionized. Red if
returning to ground state from an excited state.

Oxygen is unusual in terms of its return to ground state: it can take three quarters of a second
to emit green light and up to two minutes to emit red. Collisions with other atoms or
molecules will absorb the excitation energy and prevent emission. Because the very top of the
atmosphere has a higher percentage of oxygen and is sparsely distributed such collisions are
rare enough to allow time for oxygen to emit red. Collisions become more frequent
progressing down into the atmosphere, so that red emissions do not have time to happen, and
eventually even green light emissions are prevented.

This is why there is a colour differential with altitude; at high altitude oxygen red dominates,
then oxygen green and nitrogen blue/red, then finally nitrogen blue/red when collisions
prevent oxygen from emitting anything. Green is the most common of all auroras. Behind it is
pink, a mixture of light green and red, followed by pure red, yellow (a mixture of red and
green), and lastly pure blue.

Auroras are associated with the solar wind, a flow of ions continuously flowing outward from
the Sun. The Earth's magnetic field traps these particles, many of which travel toward the
poles where they are accelerated toward Earth. Collisions between these ions and atmospheric
atoms and molecules cause energy releases in the form of auroras appearing in large circles
around the poles. Auroras are more frequent and brighter during the intense phase of the
solar cycle when coronal mass ejections increase the intensity of the solar wind.

A predominantly red aurora australis

Forms and magnetism

Typically the aurora appears either as a diffuse glow or as "curtains" that approximately
extend in the east-west direction. At some times, they form "quiet arcs"; at others ("active
aurora"), they evolve and change constantly. Each curtain consists of many parallel rays, each
lined up with the local direction of the magnetic field lines, suggesting that auroras are shaped
by Earth's magnetic field. Indeed, satellites show electrons to be guided by magnetic field
lines, spiraling around them while moving towards Earth.

The similarity to curtains is often enhanced by folds called "striations". When the field line
guiding a bright auroral patch leads to a point directly above the observer, the aurora may
appear as a "corona" of diverging rays, an effect of perspective.

Although it was first mentioned by Ancient Greek explorer/geographer Pytheas, Hiorter and
Celsius first described in 1741 evidence for magnetic control, namely, large magnetic
fluctuations occurred whenever the aurora was observed overhead. This indicates (it was later
realized) that large electric currents were associated with the aurora, flowing in the region
where auroral light originated. Kristian Birkeland (1908) deduced that the currents flowed in
the east-west directions along the auroral arc, and such currents, flowing from the dayside
towards (approximately) midnight were later named "auroral electrojets.

On 26 February 2008, THEMIS probes were able to determine, for the first time, the triggering
event for the onset of magnetospheric substorms. Two of the five probes, positioned
approximately one third the distance to the moon, measured events suggesting a magnetic
reconnection event 96 seconds prior to auroral intensification. Dr. Vassilis Angelopoulos of the
University of California, Los Angeles, the principal investigator for the THEMIS mission,
claimed, "Our data show clearly and for the first time that magnetic reconnection is the

Still more evidence for a magnetic connection are the statistics of auroral observations. Elias
Loomis (1860) and later in more detail Hermann Fritz (1881) and S. Tromholt (1882)
established that the aurora appeared mainly in the "auroral zone", a ring-shaped region with a
radius of approximately 2500 km around Earth's magnetic pole. It was hardly ever seen near
the geographic pole, which is about 2000 km away from the magnetic pole. The instantaneous
distribution of auroras ("auroral oval", Yasha/Jakob Feldstein 1963) is slightly different,
centered about 3-5 degrees nightward of the magnetic pole, so that auroral arcs reach
furthest towards the equator around midnight. The aurora can be seen best at this time.

The aurora borealis shines above Bear Lake,

Red and green aurora in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Northern lights with very rare blue light over
Moskosel, Lapland in Sweden.

Northern lights over Malmesjaur, Moskosel,
Lapland, Sweden.

Aurora australis in Antarctica.

View of the aurora australis from the
International Space Station.

Solar wind and the magnetosphere

The Earth is constantly immersed in the solar wind, a rarefied flow of hot plasma (gas of free
electrons and positive ions) emitted by the Sun in all directions, a result of the two-million-
degree heat of the Sun's outermost layer, the corona. The solar wind usually reaches Earth
with a velocity around 400 km/s, density around 5 ions/cm3 and magnetic field intensity
around 25 nT (nanoteslas; Earth's surface field is typically 30,00050,000 nT). These are
typical values. During magnetic storms, in particular, flows can be several times faster; the
interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) may also be much stronger.

The IMF originates on the Sun, related to the field of sunspots, and its field lines (lines of
force) are dragged out by the solar wind. That alone would tend to line them up in the Sun-
Earth direction, but the rotation of the Sun skews them (at Earth) by about 45 degrees, so
that field lines passing Earth may actually start near the western edge ("limb") of the visible

Earth's magnetosphere is formed by the impact of the solar wind on the Earth's magnetic field.
It forms an obstacle to the solar wind, diverting it, at an average distance of about 70,000 km
(11 Earth radii or Re), forming a bow shock 12,000 km to 15,000 km (1.9 to 2.4 Re) further
upstream. The width of the magnetosphere abreast of Earth, is typically 190,000 km (30 Re),
and on the night side a long "magnetotail" of stretched field lines extends to great distances
(> 200 Re).

The magnetosphere is full of trapped plasma as the solar wind passes the Earth. The flow of
plasma into the magnetosphere increases with increases in solar wind density and speed, with
increase in the southward component of the IMF and with increases in turbulence in the solar
wind flow. The flow pattern of magnetospheric plasma is from the magnetotail toward the
Earth, around the Earth and back into the solar wind through the magnetopause on the day-
side. In addition to moving perpendicular to the Earth's magnetic field, some magnetospheric
plasma travel down along the Earth's magnetic field lines and lose energy to the atmosphere
in the auroral zones. Magnetospheric electrons which are accelerated downward by field-
aligned electric fields are responsible for the bright aurora features. The un-accelerated
electrons and ions are responsible for the dim glow of the diffuse aurora.

Frequency of occurrence

Auroras are occasionally seen in temperate latitudes, when a magnetic storm temporarily
grows the auroral oval. Large magnetic storms are most common during the peak of the
eleven-year sunspot cycle or during the three years after that peak. However, within the
auroral zone the likelihood of an aurora occurring depends mostly on the slant of
interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) lines (the slant is known as Bz), being greater with
southward slants.

Geomagnetic storms that ignite auroras actually happen more often during the months around
the equinoxes. It is not well understood why geomagnetic storms are tied to Earth's seasons
while polar activity is not. But it is known that during spring and autumn, the interplanetary
magnetic field and that of Earth link up. At the magnetopause, Earth's magnetic field points
north. When Bz becomes large and negative (i.e., the IMF tilts south), it can partially cancel
Earth's magnetic field at the point of contact. South-pointing Bz's open a door through which
energy from the solar wind can reach Earth's inner magnetosphere.

The peaking of Bz during this time is a result of geometry. The IMF comes from the Sun and is
carried outward with the solar wind. The rotation of the Sun causes the IMF to have a spiral
shape. The southward (and northward) excursions of Bz are greatest during April and October,
when Earth's magnetic dipole axis is most closely aligned with the Parker spiral.

However, Bz is not the only influence on geomagnetic activity. The Sun's rotation axis is tilted
8 degrees with respect to the plane of Earth's orbit. The solar wind blows more rapidly from
the Sun's poles than from its equator, thus the average speed of particles buffeting Earth's
magnetosphere waxes and wanes every six months. The solar wind speed is greatest by
about 50 km/s, on average around 5 September and 5 March when Earth lies at its highest
heliographic latitude.

Still, neither Bz nor the solar wind can fully explain the seasonal behavior of geomagnetic
storms. Those factors together contribute only about one-third of the observed semiannual

Auroral events of historical significance

The auroras that resulted from the "great geomagnetic storm" on both 28 August and 2
September 1859 are thought the most spectacular in recent recorded history. Balfour Stewart,
in a paper to the Royal Society on 21 November 1861, described both auroral events as
documented by a self-recording magnetograph at the Kew Observatory and established the
connection between the 2 September 1859 auroral storm and the Carrington-Hodgson flare
event when he observed that "it is not impossible to suppose that in this case our luminary
was taken in the act." The second auroral event, which occurred on 2 September 1859 as a
result of the exceptionally intense Carrington-Hodgson white light solar flare on 1 September
1859 produced auroras so widespread and extraordinarily brilliant that they were seen and
reported in published scientific measurements, ships' logs and newspapers throughout the
United States, Europe, Japan and Australia. It was reported by the New York Times that in
Boston on Friday 2 September 1859 the aurora was "so brilliant that at about one o'clock
ordinary print could be read by the light". One o'clock Boston time on Friday 2 September,
would have been 6:00 GMT and the self-recording magnetograph at the Kew Observatory was
recording the geomagnetic storm, which was then one hour old, at its full intensity. Between
1859 and 1862, Elias Loomis published a series of nine papers on the Great Auroral Exhibition
of 1859 in the American Journal of Science where he collected world wide reports of the
auroral event. The aurora is thought to have been produced by one of the most intense
coronal mass ejections in history, very near the maximum intensity that the Sun is thought to
be capable of producing. It is also notable for the fact that it is the first time where the
phenomena of auroral activity and electricity were unambiguously linked. This insight was
made possible not only due to scientific magnetometer measurements of the era but also as a
result of a significant portion of the 125,000 miles (201,000 km) of telegraph lines then in
service being significantly disrupted for many hours throughout the storm. Some telegraph
lines however seem to have been of the appropriate length and orientation to produce a
sufficient geomagnetically induced current from the electromagnetic field to allow for
continued communication with the telegraph operators' power supplies switched off.

The following conversation occurred between two operators of the American Telegraph Line
between Boston and Portland, Maine, on the night of 2 September 1859 and reported in the
Boston Traveler:

Boston operator (to Portland operator): "Please cut off your battery [power source]
entirely for fifteen minutes."
Portland operator: "Will do so. It is now disconnected."
Boston: "Mine is disconnected, and we are working with the auroral current. How do
you receive my writing?"
Portland: "Better than with our batteries on. - Current comes and goes gradually."
Boston: "My current is very strong at times, and we can work better without the
batteries, as the aurora seems to neutralize and augment our batteries alternately,
making current too strong at times for our relay magnets. Suppose we work without
batteries while we are affected by this trouble."
Portland: "Very well. Shall I go ahead with business?"
Boston: "Yes. Go ahead."

The conversation was carried on for around two hours using no battery power at all and
working solely with the current induced by the aurora, and it was said that this was the first
time on record that more than a word or two was transmitted in such manner. Such events led
to the general conclusion that

The effect of the Aurora on the electric telegraph is generally to increase or diminish
the electric current generated in working the wires. Sometimes it entirely neutralizes
them, so that, in effect, no fluid is discoverable in them . The aurora borealis seems to
be composed of a mass of electric matter, resembling in every respect, that generated
by the electric galvanic battery. The currents from it change coming on the wires, and
then disappear: the mass of the aurora rolls from the horizon to the zenith.

The ultimate energy source of the aurora is
the solar wind flowing past the Earth. The
magnetosphere and solar wind consist of
plasma (ionized gas), which conducts
electricity. It is well known (since Michael
Faraday's [1791 - 1867] work around 1830)
that when an electrical conductor is placed
within a magnetic field while relative motion
occurs in a direction that the conductor cuts
across (or is cut by), rather than along, the
lines of the magnetic field, an electric current
is said to be induced into that conductor and
electrons will flow within it. The amount of
current flow is dependent upon a) the rate of
relative motion, b) the strength of the
magnetic field, c) the number of conductors
ganged together and d) the distance between
the conductor and the magnetic field, while
the direction of flow is dependent upon the
direction of relative motion. Dynamos make
use of this basic process ("the dynamo
effect"), any and all conductors, solid or
otherwise are so affected including plasmas
or other fluids.

In particular the solar wind and the
magnetosphere are two electrically conducting fluids with such relative motion and should be

Aurora australis (11 September 2005) as
captured by NASA's IMAGE satellite, digitally
overlaid onto The Blue Marble composite
image. An animation created using the same
satellite data is also available.

able (in principle) to generate electric currents by "dynamo action", in the process also
extracting energy from the flow of the solar wind. The process is hampered by the fact that
plasmas conduct easily along magnetic field lines, but not so easily perpendicular to them. So
it is important that a temporary magnetic connection be established between the field lines of
the solar wind and those of the magnetosphere, by a process known as magnetic
reconnection. It happens most easily with a southward slant of interplanetary field lines,
because then field lines north of Earth approximately match the direction of field lines near the
north magnetic pole (namely, into Earth), and similarly near the south magnetic pole. Indeed,
active auroras (and related "substorms") are much more likely at such times. Electric currents
originating in such way apparently give auroral electrons their energy. The magnetospheric
plasma has an abundance of electrons: some are magnetically trapped, some reside in the
magnetotail, and some exist in the upward extension of the ionosphere, which may extend
(with diminishing density) some 25,000 km around Earth.

Bright auroras are generally associated with Birkeland currents (Schield et al., 1969; Zmuda
and Armstrong, 1973) which flow down into the ionosphere on one side of the pole and out on
the other. In between, some of the current connects directly through the ionospheric E layer
(125 km); the rest ("region 2") detours, leaving again through field lines closer to the equator
and closing through the "partial ring current" carried by magnetically trapped plasma. The
ionosphere is an ohmic conductor, so such currents require a driving voltage, which some
dynamo mechanism can supply. Electric field probes in orbit above the polar cap suggest
voltages of the order of 40,000 volts, rising up to more than 200,000 volts during intense
magnetic storms.

Ionospheric resistance has a complex nature, and leads to a secondary Hall current flow. By a
strange twist of physics, the magnetic disturbance on the ground due to the main current
almost cancels out, so most of the observed effect of auroras is due to a secondary current,
the auroral electrojet. An auroral electrojet index (measured in nanotesla) is regularly derived
from ground data and serves as a general measure of auroral activity.

However, ohmic resistance is not the only obstacle to current flow in this circuit. The
convergence of magnetic field lines near Earth creates a "mirror effect" that turns back most
of the down-flowing electrons (where currents flow upwards), inhibiting current-carrying
capacity. To overcome this, part of the available voltage appears along the field line ("parallel
to the field"), helping electrons overcome that obstacle by widening the bundle of trajectories
reaching Earth; a similar "parallel potential" is used in "tandem mirror" plasma containment
devices. A feature of such voltage is that it is concentrated near Earth (potential proportional
to field intensity; Persson, 1963), and indeed, as deduced by Evans (1974) and confirmed by
satellites, most auroral acceleration occurs below 10,000 km. Another indicator of parallel
electric fields along field lines are beams of upwards flowing O+ ions observed on auroral field

Some O+ ions ("conics") also seem accelerated in different ways by plasma processes
associated with the aurora. These ions are accelerated by plasma waves, in directions mainly
perpendicular to the field lines. They therefore start at their own "mirror points" and can travel
only upwards. As they do so, the "mirror effect" transforms their directions of motion, from
perpendicular to the line to lying on a cone around it, which gradually narrows down.

In addition, the aurora and associated currents produce a strong radio emission around 150
kHz known as auroral kilometric radiation (AKR, discovered in 1972). Ionospheric absorption
makes AKR observable from space only.

These "parallel potentials" accelerate electrons to auroral energies and seem to be a major
source of aurora. Other mechanisms have also been proposed, in particular, Alfvn waves,
wave modes involving the magnetic field first noted by Hannes Alfvn (1942), which have
been observed in the lab and in space. The question is however whether these waves might
just be a different way of looking at the above process, because this approach does not point
out a different energy source, and many plasma bulk phenomena can also be described in
terms of Alfvn waves.

Other processes are also involved in the aurora, and much remains to be learned. Auroral
electrons created by large geomagnetic storms often seem to have energies below 1 keV, and
are stopped higher up, near 200 km. Such low energies excite mainly the red line of oxygen,
so that often such auroras are red. On the other hand, positive ions also reach the ionosphere
at such time, with energies of 20-30 keV, suggesting they might be an "overflow" along
magnetic field lines of the copious "ring current" ions accelerated at such times, by processes
different from the ones described above.

Sources and types

Understanding is very incomplete. There are three possible main sources:

Dynamo action with the solar wind flowing past Earth, possibly producing quiet auroral
arcs ("directly driven" process). The circuit of the accelerating currents and their
connection to the solar wind are uncertain.
Dynamo action involving plasma squeezed towards Earth by sudden convulsions of the
magnetotail ("magnetic substorms"). Substorms tend to occur after prolonged spells
(hours) during which the interplanetary magnetic field has an appreciable southward
component, leading to a high rate of interconnection between its field lines and those
of Earth. As a result the solar wind moves magnetic flux (tubes of magnetic field lines,
moving together with their resident plasma) from the day side of Earth to the
magnetotail, widening the obstacle it presents to the solar wind flow and causing it to
be squeezed harder. Ultimately the tail plasma is torn ("magnetic reconnection");
some blobs ("plasmoids") are squeezed tailwards and are carried away with the solar
wind; others are squeezed towards Earth where their motion feeds large outbursts of
aurora, mainly around midnight ("unloading process"). Geomagnetic storms have
similar effects, but with greater vigor. The big difference is the addition of many
particles to the plasma trapped around Earth, enhancing the "ring current" it carries.
The resulting modification of Earth's field makes auroras visible at middle latitudes, on
field lines much closer to the equator.
Satellite images of the aurora from above show a "ring of fire" along the auroral oval
(see above), often widest at midnight. That is the "diffuse aurora", not distinct enough
to be seen by the eye. It does not seem to be associated with acceleration by electric
currents (although currents and their arcs may be embedded in it) but to be due to
electrons leaking out of the magnetotail.

Any magnetic trapping is leakythere always
exists a bundle of directions ("loss cone") around
the guiding magnetic field lines where particles are
not trapped but escape. In the radiation belts of
Earth, once particles on such trajectories are gone,
new ones only replace them very slowly, leaving
such directions nearly "empty". In the
magnetotail, however, particle trajectories seem
to be constantly reshuffled, probably when the
particles cross the very weak field near the
equator. As a result, the flow of electrons in all
directions is nearly the same ("isotropic"), and
that assures a steady supply of leaking electrons.

The energization of such electrons comes from
magnetotail processes. The leakage of negative
electrons does not leave the tail positively
charged, because each leaked electron lost to the
atmosphere is quickly replaced by a low energy electron drawn upwards from the ionosphere.
Such replacement of "hot" electrons by "cold" ones is in complete accord with the 2nd law of

Aurora during a geomagnetic storm that
was most likely caused by a coronal
mass ejection from the Sun on 24 May
2010. Taken from the ISS.

Other types of auroras have been observed from space, e.g. "poleward arcs" stretching
sunward across the polar cap, the related "theta aurora", and "dayside arcs" near noon. These
are relatively infrequent and poorly understood. There are other interesting effects such as
flickering aurora, "black aurora" and subvisual red arcs. In addition to all these, a weak glow
(often deep red) has been observed around the two polar cusps, the "funnels" of field lines
separating the ones that close on the day side of Earth from lines swept into the tail. The
cusps allow a small amount of solar wind to reach the top of the atmosphere, producing an
auroral glow.

On other planets

Jupiter aurora. The bright
spot at far left is the end of
field line to Io; spots at
bottom lead to Ganymede
and Europa.

An aurora high above the
northern part of Saturn.
Image taken by the Cassini

Both Jupiter and Saturn have magnetic fields much stronger than Earth's (Jupiter's equatorial
field strength is 4.3 gauss, compared to 0.3 gauss for Earth), and both have large radiation
belts. Auroras have been observed on both, most clearly with the Hubble Space Telescope.
Uranus and Neptune have also been observed to have auroras.

The auroras on the gas giants seem, like Earth's, to be powered by the solar wind. In addition,
however, Jupiter's moons, especially Io, are powerful sources of auroras on Jupiter. These
arise from electric currents along field lines ("field aligned currents"), generated by a dynamo
mechanism due to the relative motion between the rotating planet and the moving moon. Io,
which has active volcanism and an ionosphere, is a particularly strong source, and its currents
also generate radio emissions, studied since 1955. Auroras have also been observed on Io,
Europa, and Ganymede themselves, e.g., using the Hubble Space Telescope. These Auroras
have also been observed on Venus and Mars. Because Venus has no intrinsic (planetary)
magnetic field, Venusian auroras appear as bright and diffuse patches of varying shape and
intensity, sometimes distributed across the full planetary disc. Venusian auroras are produced
by the impact of electrons originating from the solar wind and precipitating in the night-side
atmosphere. An aurora was also detected on Mars, on 14 August 2004, by the SPICAM
instrument aboard Mars Express. The aurora was located at Terra Cimmeria, in the region of
177 East, 52 South. The total size of the emission region was about 30 km across, and
possibly about 8 km high. By analyzing a map of crustal magnetic anomalies compiled with
data from Mars Global Surveyor, scientists observed that the region of the emissions
corresponded to an area where the strongest magnetic field is localized. This correlation
indicates that the origin of the light emission was a flux of electrons moving along the crust
magnetic lines and exciting the upper atmosphere of Mars.

History of aurora theories

In the past theories have been proposed to explain the phenomenon. These theories are now

Seneca speaks diffusely on auroras in the first book of his Naturales Quaestiones,
drawing mainly from Aristoteles; he classifies them ("putei" or wells when they are
circular and "rim a large hole in the sky", "pithaei" when they look like casks,
"chasmata" from the same root of the English chasm, "pogoniae" when they are
bearded, "cyparissae" when they look like cypresses), describes their manifold colors
and asks himself whether they are above or below the clouds. He recalls that under
Tiberius, an aurora formed above Ostia, so intense and so red that a cohort of the
army, stationed nearby for fireman duty, galloped to the city.
Benjamin Franklin theorized that the "mystery of the Northern Lights" was caused by a
concentration of electrical charges in the polar regions intensified by the snow and
other moisture.
Auroral electrons come from beams emitted by the Sun. This was claimed around
1900 by Kristian Birkeland, whose experiments in a vacuum chamber with electron
beams and magnetized spheres (miniature models of Earth or "terrellas") showed that
such electrons would be guided towards the polar regions. Problems with this model
included absence of aurora at the poles themselves, self-dispersal of such beams by
their negative charge, and more recently, lack of any observational evidence in space.
The aurora is the overflow of the radiation belt ("leaky bucket theory"). This was first
disproved around 1962 by James Van Allen and co-workers, who showed that the high
rate of energy dissipation by the aurora would quickly drain the radiation belt. Soon
afterward, it became clear that most of the energy in trapped particles resided in
positive ions, while auroral particles were almost always electrons, of relatively low
The aurora is produced by solar wind particles guided by Earth's field lines to the top
of the atmosphere. This holds true for the cusp aurora, but outside the cusp, the solar
wind has no direct access. In addition, the main energy in the solar wind resides in
positive ions; electrons only have about 0.5 eV (electron volt), and while in the cusp
this may be raised to 50100 eV, that still falls short of auroral energies.
After the Battle of Fredericksburg the lights could be seen from the battlefield that
night. The Confederate army took it as a sign that God was on their side during the
battle. It was very rare that one could see the Lights in Virginia.


25-second exposure of the aurora
australis from Amundsen-Scott S.P.S.

Red & green Auroras. Photo by Frank
Olsen, Norway

Images of auroras are significantly more common today due to the rise of use of digital
cameras that have high enough sensitivities. Film and digital exposure to auroral displays is
fraught with difficulties, particularly if faithfulness of reproduction is an objective. Due to the
different spectral energy present, and changing dynamically throughout the exposure, the
results are somewhat unpredictable. Different layers of the film emulsion respond differently
to lower light levels, and choice of film can be very important. Longer exposures aggregate the
rapidly changing energy and often blanket the dynamic attribute of a display. Higher
sensitivity creates issues with graininess.

David Malin pioneered multiple exposure using multiple filters for astronomical photography,
recombining the images in the laboratory to recreate the visual display more accurately. For
scientific research, proxies are often used, such as ultra-violet, and re-coloured to simulate
the appearance to humans. Predictive techniques are also used, to indicate the extent of the
display, a highly useful tool for aurora hunters. Terrestrial features often find their way into
aurora images, making them more accessible and more likely to be published by the major
websites. It is possible to take excellent images with standard film (using ISO ratings between
100 and 400) and a single-lens reflex camera with full aperture, a fast lens (f1.4 50 mm, for
example), and exposures between 10 and 30 seconds, depending on the aurora's display

Early work on the imaging of the auroras was done in 1949 by the University of Saskatchewan
using the SCR-270 radar.

Ball Lightning

Ball lightning is an unexplained atmospheric
electrical phenomenon. The term refers to
reports of luminous, usually spherical objects
which vary from pea-sized to several meters in
diameter. It is usually associated with
thunderstorms, but lasts considerably longer
than the split-second flash of a lightning bolt.
Many of the early reports say that the ball
eventually explodes, sometimes with fatal
consequences, leaving behind the odor of

Laboratory experiments have produced effects
that are visually similar to reports of ball
lightning, but it is presently unknown whether
these are actually related to any naturally occurring phenomenon. Scientific data on natural
ball lightning are scarce owing to its infrequency and unpredictability. The presumption of its
existence is based on reported public sightings, and has therefore produced somewhat
inconsistent findings. Given inconsistencies and the lack of reliable data, the true nature of ball
lightning is still unknown.

Historical accounts

In a 1960 study, 5% of the US population reported having witnessed ball lightning. Another
study analyzed reports of 10,000 cases.

M. l'abb de Tressan, in Mythology compared with history: or, the fables of the ancients
elucidated from historical records:

... during a storm which endangered the ship Argo, fires were seen to play round the
heads of the Tyndarides, and the instant after the storm ceased. From that time, those
fires which frequently appear on the surface of the ocean were called the fire of Castor
and Pollux. When two were seen at the same time, it announced the return of calm,
when only one, it was the presage of a dreadful storm. This species of fire is
frequently seen by sailors, and is a species of ignis fatuus. (page 417)

The Great Thunderstorm of Widecombe-in-the-Moor

A contemporary woodcut of the 1638 thunderstorm at

One of the earliest descriptions was reported during The Great
Thunderstorm at a church in Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon, in
England, on 21 October 1638. Four people died and
approximately 60 were injured when, during a severe storm, an
8-foot (2.4 m) ball of fire was described as striking and entering
the church, nearly destroying it. Large stones from the church
walls were hurled into the ground and through large wooden
beams. The ball of fire allegedly smashed the pews and many
windows, and filled the church with a foul sulfurous odor and
dark, thick smoke.

The ball of fire reportedly divided into two segments, one
exiting through a window by smashing it open, the other disappearing somewhere inside the
church. The explanation at the time, because of the fire and sulfur smell, was that the ball of
fire was "the devil" or the "flames of hell". Later, some blamed the entire incident on two
people who had been playing cards in the pew during the sermon, thereby incurring God's

The Catherine and Mary

In December 1726 a number of British newspapers printed an extract of a letter from John
Howell of the sloop Catherine and Mary:

As we were coming thro the Gulf of Florida on the 29th of August, a large ball of fire
fell from the Element and split our mast in Ten Thousand Pieces, if it were possible;
split our Main Beam, also Three Planks of the Side, Under Water, and Three of the
Deck; killd one man, another had his Hand carried of,[sic] and had it not been for the
violent rains, our Sails would have been of a Blast of Fire.

The Montague

One particularly large example was reported "on the authority of Dr. Gregory" in 1749:

Admiral Chambers on board the Montague, November 4, 1749, was taking an
observation just before noon...he observed a large ball of blue fire about three miles
distant from them. They immediately lowered their topsails, but it came up so fast
upon them, that, before they could raise the main tack, they observed the ball rise
almost perpendicularly, and not above forty or fifty yards from the main chains when
it went off with an explosion, as great as if a hundred cannons had been discharged at
the same time, leaving behind it a strong sulphurous smell. By this explosion the main
top-mast was shattered into pieces and the main mast went down to the keel. Five
men were knocked down and one of them much bruised. Just before the explosion,
the ball seemed to be the size of a large mill-stone.

Georg Richmann

A 1753 report depicts ball lightning as being lethal, when Professor Georg Richmann of Saint
Petersburg, Russia, created a kite-flying apparatus similar to Benjamin Franklin's proposal a
year earlier. Richmann was attending a meeting of the Academy of Sciences when he heard
thunder, and ran home with his engraver to capture the event for posterity. While the
experiment was under way, ball lightning appeared and travelled down the string, struck
Richmann's forehead and killed him. The ball left a red spot on Richmann's forehead, his shoes
were blown open, and his clothing was singed. His engraver was knocked unconscious. The
door frame of the room was split and the door was torn from its hinges.

HMS Warren Hastings

An English journal reported that during an 1809 storm, three "balls of fire" appeared and
"attacked" the British ship HMS Warren Hastings. The crew watched one ball descend, killing a
man on deck and setting the main mast on fire. A crewman went out to retrieve the fallen
body and was struck by a second ball, which knocked him back and left him with mild burns. A
third man was killed by contact with the third ball. Crew members reported a persistent,
sickening sulfur smell afterward.

Ebenezer Cobham Brewer

Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, in his 1864 US edition of A Guide to the Scientific Knowledge of
Things Familiar, discussed "globular lightning". He describes it as slow-moving balls of fire or
explosive gas that sometimes fall to the earth or run along the ground during a thunderstorm.
He said that the balls sometimes split into smaller balls and may explode "like a cannon".

Wilfrid de Fonvielle

In his book Thunder and Lighting, translated into English in 1875, French science writer,
Wilfred de Fonvielle, wrote that there had been about 150 reports of globular lightning:

Globular lighting seems to be particularly attracted to metals; thus it will seek the
railings of balconies, or else water or gas pipes etc, It has no peculiar tint of its own
but will appear of any colour as the case may Coethen in the Duchy of Anhalt it
appeared green. M. Colon, Vice-President of the Geological Society of Paris, saw a ball
of lightning descend slowly from the sky along the bark of a poplar tree; as soon as it
touched the earth it bounced up again, and disappeared without exploding. On 10th of
September 1845 a ball of lightning entered the kitchen of a house in the village of
Salagnac in the valley of Correze. This ball rolled across without doing any harm to
two women and a young man who were here; but on getting into an adjoining stable it
exploded and killed a pig which happened to be shut up there, and which, knowing
nothing about the wonders of thunder and lightning, dared to smell it in the most rude
and unbecoming manner. The motion of such balls is far from being very rapid they
have even been observed occasionally to pause in their course, but they are not the
less destructive for all that. A ball of lightning which entered the church of Stralsund,
on exploding, projected a number of balls which exploded in their turn like shells.

Tsar Nicholas II

Tsar Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia, reported witnessing what he called "a fiery ball"
while in the company of his grandfather, Tsar Alexander II: "Once my parents were away,"
recounted the Tsar, "and I was at the all-night vigil with my grandfather in the small church in
Alexandria. During the service there was a powerful thunderstorm, streaks of lightning flashed
one after the other, and it seemed as if the peals of thunder would shake even the church and
the whole world to its foundations. Suddenly it became quite dark, a blast of wind from the
open door blew out the flame of the candles which were lit in front of the iconostasis, there
was a long clap of thunder, louder than before, and I suddenly saw a fiery ball flying from the
window straight towards the head of the Emperor. The ball (it was of lightning) whirled around
the floor, then passed the chandelier and flew out through the door into the park. My heart
froze, I glanced at my grandfather his face was completely calm. He crossed himself just as
calmly as he had when the fiery ball had flown near us, and I felt that it was unseemly and not
courageous to be frightened as I was ... After the ball had passed through the whole church,
and suddenly gone out through the door, I again looked at my grandfather. A faint smile was
on his face, and he nodded his head at me. My panic disappeared, and from that time I had no
more fear of storms."

Aleister Crowley

British occultist Aleister Crowley reported witnessing what he referred to as "globular
electricity" during a thunderstorm on Lake Pasquaney in New Hampshire in 1916. He was
sheltered in a small cottage when he "noticed, with what I can only describe as calm
amazement, that a dazzling globe of electric fire, apparently between six and twelve inches
(1530 cm) in diameter, was stationary about six inches below and to the right of my right
knee. As I looked at it, it exploded with a sharp report quite impossible to confuse with the
continuous turmoil of the lightning, thunder and hail, or that of the lashed water and smashed
wood which was creating a pandemonium outside the cottage. I felt a very slight shock in the
middle of my right hand, which was closer to the globe than any other part of my body."

Other accounts

On 30 April 1877, a ball of lightning entered the Golden Temple at Amritsar, India, and
exited through a side door. Several people observed the ball, and the incident is
inscribed on the front wall of Darshani Deodhi.

On 22 November 1894 there was an unusually prolonged instance of natural ball
lightning in Golden, Colorado which suggests it could be artificially induced from the
atmosphere. The Golden Globe newspaper reported "A beautiful yet strange
phenomenon was seen in this city on last Monday night. The wind was high and the air
seemed to be full of electricity. In front of, above and around the new Hall of
Engineering of the School of Mines, balls of fire played tag for half an hour, to the
wonder and amazement of all who saw the display. In this building is situated the
dynamos and electrical apparatus of perhaps the finest electrical plant of its size in the
state. There was probably a visiting delegation from the clouds, to the captives of the
dynamos on last Monday night, and they certainly had a fine visit and a roystering
game of romp."
In July 1907 the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse in Western Australia was hit by ball
lightning. Lighthouse keeper Patrick Baird was in the tower at the time and was
knocked unconscious. His daughter Ethel recorded the event.
An early fictional reference to ball lightning appears in a children's book set in the 19th
century by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The books are considered historical fiction, but the
author always insisted they were descriptive of actual events in her life. In Wilder's
description, three separate balls of lightning appear during a winter blizzard near a
cast iron stove in the family's kitchen. They are described as appearing near the
stovepipe, then rolling across the floor, only to disappear as the mother (Caroline
Ingalls) chases them with a willow-branch broom.
Pilots in World War II described an unusual phenomenon for which ball lightning has
been suggested as an explanation. The pilots saw small balls of light moving in
strange trajectories, which came to be referred to as foo fighters.
Submariners in WWII gave the most frequent and consistent accounts of small ball
lightning in the confined submarine atmosphere. There are repeated accounts of
inadvertent production of floating explosive balls when the battery banks were
switched in or out, especially if mis-switched or when the highly inductive electrical
motors were mis-connected or disconnected. An attempt later to duplicate those balls
with a surplus submarine battery resulted in several failures and an explosion.
On 6 August 1944, a ball of lightning went through a closed window in Uppsala,
Sweden, leaving a circular hole about 5 cm in diameter. The incident was witnessed by
residents in the area, and was recorded by a lightning strike tracking system on the
Division for Electricity and Lightning Research at Uppsala University.
In 1954 Domokos Tar, a physicist, observed a lightning strike during a heavy
thunderstorm. A single bush was flattened in the wind. Some seconds later a speedy
rotating ring (cylinder) appeared in the shape of a wreath. The ring was about 5 m
away from the lightning impact point. The ring's plane was perpendicular to the
ground and in full view of the observer. The outer/inner diameters were about 60/30
cm. The ring rotated quickly about 80 cm above the ground. It was composed of wet
leaves and dirt and rotated counter clockwise. After seconds the ring became self-
illuminated turning increasingly red, then orange, yellow and finally white. The ring
(cylinder) at the outside was similar to a sparkler. In spite of the rain, many electrical
high voltage discharges could be seen. After some seconds , the ring suddenly
disappeared and simultaneously the Ball Lightning appeared in the middle. Initially the
ball had only one tail and it rotated in the same direction as the ring. It was
homogenous and showed no transparency. In the first moment the ball hovered
motionless, but then began to move forward on the same line with a constant speed of
about 1m/sec. It was stable and travelled at the same height in spite of the heavy rain
and strong wind. After moving about 10 m it suddenly disappeared without any noise.
In January 1984, a ball lightning measuring about four inches in diameter entered a
Russian passenger aircraft and, according to the Russian news release, "flew above
the heads of the stunned passengers. In the tail section of the airliner, it divided into
two glowing crescents which then joined together again and left the plane almost
noiselessly." The ball lightning left two holes in the plane.
On 10 July 2011, during a powerful thunderstorm, a ball of light with a two-meter tail
went through a window to the control room of local emergency services in Liberec,
Czech Republic. The ball bounced from window to the ceiling, then to the floor and
back to the ceiling, where it rolled along it for two or three meters. Then it dropped to
the floor and disappeared. The staff present in the control room was frightened,
smelled electricity and burned cables and thought something was burning. The
computers froze (not crashed) and all communications equipment was knocked out for
the night until restored by technicians. Aside from damages caused by disrupting
equipment, only one computer monitor was destroyed.


Descriptions of ball lightning vary wildly. It has been described as moving up and down,
sideways or in unpredictable trajectories, hovering and moving with or against the wind;
attracted to, unaffected by, or repelled from buildings, people, cars and other objects. Some
accounts describe it as moving through solid masses of wood or metal without effect, while
others describe it as destructive and melting or burning those substances. Its appearance has
also been linked to power lines as well as during thunderstorms and also calm weather. Ball
lightning has been described as transparent, translucent, multicolored, evenly lit, radiating
flames, filaments or sparks, with shapes that vary between spheres, ovals, tear-drops, rods,
or disks.

Ball lightning is often erroneously identified as St. Elmo's fire. They are separate and distinct

The balls have been reported to disperse in many different ways, such as suddenly vanishing,
gradually dissipating, absorption into an object, "popping," exploding loudly, or even exploding
with force, which is sometimes reported as damaging. Accounts also vary on their alleged
danger to humans, from lethal to harmless.

A review of the available literature published in 1972 identified the properties of a typical
ball lightning, whilst cautioning against over-reliance on eye-witness accounts:

They frequently appear almost simultaneously with cloud-to-ground lightning
They are generally spherical or pear-shaped with fuzzy edges
Their diameters range from 1100 cm, most commonly 1020 cm
Their brightness corresponds to roughly that of a domestic lamp, so they can be seen
clearly in daylight
A wide range of colors has been observed, red, orange and yellow being the most
The lifetime of each event is from 1 second to over a minute with the brightness
remaining fairly constant during that time
They tend to move, most often in a horizontal direction at a few meters per second,
but may also move vertically, remain stationary or wander erratically.
Many are described as having rotational motion
It is rare that observers report the sensation of heat, although in some cases the
disappearance of the ball is accompanied by the liberation of heat
Some display an affinity for metal objects and may move along conductors such as
wires or metal fences
Some appear within buildings passing through closed doors and windows
Some have appeared within metal aircraft and have entered and left without causing
The disappearance of a ball is generally rapid and may be either silent or explosive
Odors resembling ozone, burning sulfur, or nitrogen oxides are often reported

Laboratory experiments

Scientists have long attempted to produce ball lightning in laboratory experiments. While
some experiments have produced effects that are visually similar to reports of natural ball
lightning, it has not yet been determined whether there is any relation.

Nikola Tesla was reportedly able to artificially produce 1.5" (3.8 cm) balls and conducted
some demonstrations of his ability, but he was really interested in higher voltages and powers,
and remote transmission of power, so the balls he made were just a curiosity.

The International Committee on Ball Lightning holds regular symposia on the subject, the
most recent of which took place in Kaliningrad, Russia in 2008. A related group uses the
generic name "Unconventional Plasmas".

Water discharge experiments

Some scientific groups, including the Max Planck
Institute, have reportedly produced a ball lightning-type
effect by discharging a high-voltage capacitor in a tank
of water.

Home microwave oven experiments

Many modern experiments involve using a microwave oven to produce small rising glowing
balls, often referred to as "plasma balls". Generally, the experiments are conducted by placing
a lit or recently extinguished match or other small object in a microwave oven. The burnt
portion of the object flares up into a large ball of fire, while "plasma balls" can be seen floating
near the ceiling of the oven chamber. Some experiments describe covering the match with an
inverted glass jar, which contains both the flame and the balls so that they will not damage
the chamber walls. Experiments by Eli Jerby and Vladimir Dikhtyar in Israel revealed that
microwave plasma balls are made up of nanoparticles with an average radius of 25 nm. The
Israeli team demonstrated the phenomenon with copper, salts, water and carbon.

Silicon experiments

Experiments in 2007 involved shocking silicon wafers with electricity, which vaporizes the
silicon and induces oxidation in the vapors. The visual effect can be described as small
glowing, sparkling orbs that roll around a surface. Two Brazilian scientists, Antonio Pavo and
Gerson Paiva of the Federal University of Pernambuco have reportedly consistently made small
long-lasting balls using this method. These experiments stemmed from the theory that ball
lightning is actually oxidized silicon vapors (see vaporized silicon hypothesis, below).

Transcranial magnetic stimulation analogy

Theoretical calculations from University of Innsbruck researchers suggest that the magnetic
fields involved in certain types of lightning strikes could potentially induce visual hallucinations
resembling ball lightning. Such fields, which are found within close distances to a point in
which multiple lightning strikes have occurred over a few seconds, can directly cause the
neurons in the visual cortex to fire, resulting in magnetophosphenes (magnetically-induced
visual hallucinations).

Possible scientific explanations

An attempt to explain ball lightning was made by Nikola Tesla in 1904, but there is at present
no widely-accepted explanation for the phenomenon. Several theories have been advanced
since it was brought into the scientific realm by the English physician and electrical researcher
William Snow Harris in 1843, and French Academy scientist Franois Arago in 1855.

Microwave cavity hypothesis

Pyotr Kapitsa proposed that ball lightning is a glow discharge driven by microwave radiation
that is guided to the ball along lines of ionized air from lightning clouds where it is produced.
The ball serves as a resonant microwave cavity, automatically adjusting its radius to the
wavelength of the microwave radiation so that resonance is maintained.

Soliton hypothesis

Julio Rubenstein, David Finkelstein, and James R. Powell proposed that ball lightning is a
detached St. Elmo's fire (1964-1970). St. Elmo's fire arises when a sharp conductor, such as a
ship's mast, amplifies the atmospheric electric field to breakdown. For a globe the
amplification factor is 3. A free ball of ionized air can amplify the ambient field this much by its
own conductivity. When this maintains the ionization, the ball is then a soliton in the flow of
atmospheric electricity. Powell's kinetic theory calculation found that the ball size is set by the
second Townsend coefficient (the mean free path of conduction electrons) near breakdown.
Wandering glow discharges are found to occur within certain industrial microwave ovens and
continue to glow for several seconds after power is shut off. Arcs drawn from high-power low-
voltage microwave generators also are found to exhibit after-glow. Powell measured their
spectra and found the after-glow to come mostly from metastable NO ions, which are long-
lived at low temperatures. It occurred in air and in nitrous oxide, which possess such
metastable ions, and not in atmospheres of argon, carbon dioxide, or helium, which do not.

Vaporized silicon hypothesis

This hypothesis suggests that ball lightning consists of vaporized silicon burning through
oxidation. Lightning striking Earth's soil could vaporize the silica contained within it, turning it
into pure silicon vapor. As it cools, the silicon could condense into a floating aerosol, bound by
its charge, glowing due to the heat of silicon recombining with oxygen. An experimental
investigation of this effect, published in 2007, reported producing "luminous balls with lifetime
in the order of seconds" by evaporating pure silicon with an electric arc. Videos of this
experiment have been made available.

Aerodynamic vortex is cut causing it to shrink into a sphere hypothesis

According to his ball lightning observation, physicist Domokos Tar suggests the following
theory for ball lightning formation. Lightning strikes perpendicular to the ground. The thunder,
which contains more than 99.9% of the lightning energy, follows immediately at supersonic
speed in the form of shock waves and forms an invisible aerodynamic turbulence ring lying
horizontal to the ground. Around the ring there is an over and under pressure which rotates
the vortex around its circular axis in the cross section of the torus. At the same time, the ring
expands concentrically parallel to the ground at low speed. In an open space the vortex fades
and finally disappears. If the vortex's expansion is obstructed and symmetry is broken, the
vortex breaks into a sickle form, still invisible, and because of the central and surface tension-
forces it shrinks through an intermediate state of a cylinder and finally into a ball. The whole
energy of the turning vortex concentrates first in a turning linear-cylinder slowly becoming
visible. The ball lightning has the same turning axis as the rotating cylinder. It is believed that
the energy of the vortex ring is about million times less than the energy of the thunder. The
vortex, during shrinking, gives its full energy to the ball. In some observations the ball has
had an extremely high energy but this phenomenon is not yet clear.

The present theory concerns only the low energy lightning ball form, where there must be a
spherical form with centripetal forces and surface tension. Practically the whole energy of the
vortex is concentrated in the ball according to the law of conservation of mass, momentum
and energy. The illumination of the cylinder and later of the ball is caused by triboelectricity
and electroluminescence. Many sparklers on the outside of the cylinder seen during the
observation, proved this. The sparkler's direction indicated the cylinder's turning direction.
This proves that the ball was not created from the lightning's channel material because
according to the law of laminar flow, if the ball came from the channel it would have turned in
the opposite direction. Therefore, the BL is created from dirt, leaves and other particles in the
air. The LB has H2O, CO2, O2, N2, sulfur etc excited radiating molecules.

Nanobattery hypothesis

Oleg Meshcheryakov suggests that ball lightning is made of composite nano or submicrometre
particles, each particle constituting a battery. A surface discharge shorts these batteries,
resulting in a current which forms the ball. His model is described as an aerosol, but not
aerogel, model that explains all the observable properties and processes of ball lightning.

Black hole hypothesis

Another hypothesis is that some ball lightning is the passage of microscopic primordial black
holes through the Earth's atmosphere as proposed by Mario Rabinowitz in Astrophysics and
Space Science journal in 1999. Inspired by M. Fitzgeralds account of ball lightning on 6
August 1868, in Ireland that lasted 20 minutes and left a 6 metre square hole, a 90 metre
long trench, a second trench 25 meters long, and a small cave in the peat bog, Pace
VanDevender, a plasma physicist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico,
and his team found depressions consistent with Fitzgeralds report and inferred that the
evidence is inconsistent with thermal (chemical or nuclear) and electrostatic effects. An
electromagnetically levitated, compact mass of over 20,000 kg would produce the reported
effects but requires a density of more than 2000 times the density of gold, which implies a
miniature black hole. He and his team found a second event in the peat-bog witness plate
from 1982 and are currently trying to geolocate electromagnetic emission consistent with the
hypothesis. His colleagues at the institute agreed that, implausible though the hypothesis
seemed, it was worthy of their attention.
Buoyant plasma hypothesis

The declassified Project Condign report concludes that buoyant charged plasma formations
similar to ball lightning are formed by novel physical, electrical, and magnetic phenomena, and
that these charged plasmas are capable of being transported at enormous speeds under the
influence and balance of electrical charges in the atmosphere. These plasmas appear to
originate due to more than one set of weather and electrically-charged conditions, the
scientific rationale for which is incomplete or not fully understood. One suggestion is that
meteors breaking up in the atmosphere and forming charged plasmas as opposed to burning
completely or impacting as meteorites could explain some instances of the phenomena, in
addition to other unknown atmospheric events.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation

Cooray and Cooray (2008) stated that the features of hallucinations experienced by patients
having epileptic seizures in the occipital lobe are similar to the observed features of ball
lightning. The study also showed that the rapidly changing magnetic field of a close lightning
flash has a strength which is large enough to excite the neurons in the brain strengthening the
possibility of lightning-induced seizure in the occipital lobe of a person located close to a
lightning strike establishing the connection between epileptic hallucination mimicking ball
lightning and thunderstorms. More recent research with transcranial magnetic stimulation has
been shown to give the same hallucination results in the laboratory (termed
magnetophospenes), and these conditions have been shown to occur in nature near lightning
Other hypotheses

Several other hypotheses have been proposed to explain ball lightning:

Spinning electric dipole hypothesis. A 1976 article by V. G. Endean postulated that ball
lightning could be described as an electric field vector spinning in the microwave
frequency region.
Electrostatic Leyden jar models. Stanley Singer discussed (1971) this type of
hypothesis and suggested that the electrical recombination time would be too short for
the ball lightning lifetimes often reported.
J. Pace VanDevender separates extreme ball lightning of the highly energetic violent
kind, and proposes a theory of neutrinos and heavy neutrinos.
Smirnov proposed (1987) a fractal aerogel hypothesis.
V.P. Torchigin proposed (2003) considering ball lightning as a form of self-confined
intense light.
M.I. Zelikin proposed (2006) an explanation (with strict mathematical background)
based on the hypothesis of plasma superconductivity.
Ph. M. Papaelias studied (1984) the antimatter meteor hypothesis as a possible
explanation of ball lightning formation. He compared all properties of ball lightning to
those expected by antimatter meteor undergoing annihilation by atmospheric
molecules and found almost identical properties.

Beached Whale

A beached whale is a whale that has stranded itself on land, usually on a beach. Beached
whales often die due to dehydration, the body collapsing under its own weight, or drowning
when high tide covers the blowhole.

A mass stranding of Pilot Whales on the shore of Cape Cod, 1902

Every year up to 2,000 animals beach themselves. Although the majority of strandings result
in death, they pose no threat to any species as a whole. Only about 10 cetacean species
frequently display mass beachings, with 10 more rarely doing so. All frequently involved
species are toothed whales (Odontocetes), rather than baleen whales. These species share
some characteristics which may explain why they beach. Body size does not normally affect
the frequency, but both the animals' normal habitat and social organization do appear to
influence their chances of coming ashore in large numbers. Odontocetes that normally inhabit
deep waters and live in large, tightly knit groups are the most susceptible. They include the
Sperm whale, a few species of Pilot and Killer whales, a few beaked whales and some oceanic
dolphins. Solitary species naturally do not strand en masse. Cetaceans that spend most of
their time in shallow, coastal waters almost never mass strand.



Strandings can be grouped into several types. The most obvious distinctions are between
single and multiple strandings. The carcasses of deceased cetaceans are likely to float to the
surface at some point; during this time, currents or winds may carry them to a coastline.
Since thousands of cetaceans die every year, many become stranded posthumously. Most
whale carcasses never reach the coast and are scavenged or decomposed enough to sink to
the ocean bottom, where the carcass forms the basis of a unique local ecosystem called whale
fall. Single live strandings are often the result of illness or injury, which almost inevitably end
in death in the absence of human intervention.

Multiple strandings in one place are rare and often attract media coverage as well as rescue
efforts. Even multiple offshore deaths are unlikely to lead to multiple strandings due to
variable winds and currents.

A key factor in many of these cases appears to be the strong social cohesion of toothed
whales. If one gets into trouble, its distress calls may prompt the rest of the pod to follow and
beach themselves alongside. Many theories, some of them controversial, have been proposed
to explain beaching, but the question remains unresolved.


Whales have beached throughout human history, so many strandings can be attributed to
natural and environmental factors, such as rough weather, weakness due to old age or
infection, difficulty giving birth, hunting too close to shore and navigation errors.

A single stranded animal can prompt an entire pod to respond to its distress signals and
strand alongside it.

In 2004, scientists at the University of Tasmania linked whale strandings and weather,
hypothesizing that when cool Antarctic waters rich in squid and fish flow north, whales follow
their prey closer towards land. In some cases predators (such as killer whales) have been
known to panic whales, herding them towards the shoreline.

Their echolocation system can have difficulty picking up very gently-sloping coastlines. This
theory accounts for mass beaching hot spots such as Ocean Beach, Tasmania and Geographe
Bay, Western Australia where the slope is about half a degree (approximately 8 m (26 ft) deep
1 km (0.62 mi) out to sea). The University of Western Australia Bioacoustics group proposes
that repeated reflections between the surface and ocean bottom in gently-sloping shallow
water may attenuate sound so much that the echo is inaudible to the whales. Stirred up sand
as well as long-lived microbubbles formed by rain may further exacerbate the effect.

Disruption in magnetic field

A theory advanced by Geologist Jim Berkland, formerly with the U.S. Geological Survey,
attributes the strandings to radical changes in the Earth's magnetic field just prior to
earthquakes and in the general area of earthquakes. Berkland says when this occurs, it
interferes with sea mammals' and even migratory birds' ability to navigate, which explains the
mass beachings. He claims dogs and cats can also sense the disruptions, which explains
elevated rates of runaway pets 12 days before earthquakes. Research on Earth's magnetic
field and how it is affected by moving tectonic plates and earthquakes is ongoing.

"Follow-me" strandings

Some strandings may be caused by larger cetaceans following dolphins and porpoises into
shallow coastal waters. The larger animals may habituate to following faster-moving dolphins.
If they encounter an adverse combination of tidal flow and seabed topography, the larger
species may become trapped.

Sometimes following a dolphin can help a whale escape danger. A recent example occurred
when a local dolphin was followed out to open water by two Pygmy sperm whales that had
become lost behind a sandbar at Mahia Beach, New Zealand. It may be possible to train
dolphins to lead trapped whales out to sea.

An interesting observation is that pods of killer whales, predators of dolphins and porpoises,
very rarely strand. Heading for shallow waters may protect the smaller animals from predators
and that killer whales have learned to stay away. Alternatively, killer whales have learned how
to operate in shallow waters, particularly in their pursuit of seals. The latter is certainly the
case in Pennsula Valds, Argentina, and the Crozet Islands of the Indian Ocean, where killer
whales pursue seals up shelving gravel beaches to the edge of the littoral zone. The pursuing
whales are occasionally partially thrust out of the sea by a combination of their own impetus
and retreating water and have to wait for the next wave to carry them back to sea.


Volunteers attempt to keep body temperatures of beached pilot whales from rising at Farewell
Spit, New Zealand.There is evidence that active sonar leads to beaching. On some occasions
whales have stranded shortly after military sonar was active in the area, suggesting a link.
Theories describing how sonar may cause whale deaths have also been advanced after
necropsies found internal injuries in stranded whales. In contrast, whales stranded due to
seemingly natural causes are usually healthy prior to beaching:

The low frequency active sonar (LFA sonar) used by the military to detect submarines
is the loudest sound ever put into the seas. Yet the U.S. Navy is planning to deploy
LFA sonar across 80 percent of the world ocean. At an amplitude of two hundred forty
decibels, it is loud enough to kill whales and dolphins and already causing mass
strandings and deaths in areas where U.S. and/or NATO forces are conducting
Julia Whitty, The Fragile Edge

The large and rapid pressure changes made by loud sonar can cause hemorrhaging. Evidence
emerged after 17 beaked whales hauled out in the Bahamas in March 2000 following a United
States Navy sonar exercise. The Navy accepted blame agreeing that the dead whales
experienced acoustically-induced hemorrhages around the ears. The resulting disorientation
probably led to the stranding. Ken Balcomb, a whale zoologist, specializes in the Killer Whale
populations that inhabit the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Washington and Vancouver Island.
He investigated these beachings and argues that the powerful sonar pulses resonated with
airspaces in the whales, tearing tissue around the ears and brain. Apparently not all species
are affected by SONAR.

Another means by which sonar could be hurting whales is a form of decompression sickness.
This was first raised by necrological examinations of 14 beaked whales stranded in the Canary
Islands. The stranding happened on 24 September 2002, close to the operating area of Neo
Tapon (an international naval exercise) about four hours after the activation of mid-frequency
sonar. The team of scientists found acute tissue damage from gas-bubble lesions, which are
indicative of decompression sickness. The precise mechanism of how sonar causes bubble
formation is not known. It could be due to whales panicking and surfacing too rapidly in an
attempt to escape the sonar pulses. There is also a theoretical basis by which sonar vibrations
can cause supersaturated gas to nucleate to form bubbles.

The overwhelming majority of the whales involved in SONAR-associated beachings are
Cuvier's Beaked Whales (Ziphius cavirostrus). This species strands frequently, but mass
strandings are rare. They are so difficult to study in the wild that prior to the interest raised by
the SONAR controversy, most of the information about them came from stranded animals. The
first to publish research linking beachings with naval activity were Simmonds and Lopez-
Jurado in 1991. They noted that over the past decade there had been a number of mass
strandings of beaked whales in the Canary Islands, and each time the Spanish Navy was
conducting exercises. Conversely, there were no mass strandings at other times. They did not
propose a theory for the strandings.

In May 1996 there was another mass stranding in West Peloponnese, Greece. At the time it
was noted as "atypical" both because mass strandings of beaked whales are rare, and also
because the stranded whales were spread over such a long stretch of coast with each
individual whale spacially separated from the next stranding. At the time of the incident there
was no connection made with active SONAR, the marine biologist investigating the incident,
Dr. Frantzis, made the connection to SONAR because of a Notice to Mariners he discovered
about the test. His scientific correspondence in Nature titled "Does acoustic testing strand
whales?" was published in March 1998.

Dr. Peter Tyack, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, has been researching noise's effects
on marine mammals since the 1970s. He has led much of the recent research on beaked
whales (and Cuvier's beaked whales in particular). Data tags have shown that Cuvier's dive
considerably deeper than previously thought, and are in fact the deepest diving species of
marine mammal. Their surfacing behavior is highly unusual because they exert considerable
physical effort to surface in a controlled ascent, rather than simply floating to the surface like
sperm whales. Deep dives are followed by three or four shallow dives. Vocalization stops at
shallow depths, because of fear of predators or because they don't need vocalization to stay
together at depths where there is sufficient light to see each other. The elaborate dive
patterns are assumed to be necessary to control the diffusion of gases in the bloodstream. No
data show a beaked whale making an uncontrolled ascent or failing to do successive shallow

The whales may interpret the unfamiliar sound of SONAR as a predator and change its
behavior in a dangerous way. This last theory would make mitigation particularly difficult since
the sound levels themselves are not physically damaging, but only cause fear. The damage
mechanism would not be the sound.

*Black Rain

Blood Rain

Blood rain or red rain is a phenomenon in which blood
is perceived to fall from the sky in the form of rain.
Cases have been recorded since Homer's Iliad,
composed approximately 8th century BC, and are
widespread. Before the 17th century it was generally
believed that the rain was actually blood. Literature
mirrors cult practice, in which the appearance of blood
rain was considered a bad omen, and was used as a tool
foreshadowing events, but while some of these may be
literary devices, some occurrences are historic.

Red rain collected from the Kerala event

Recorded instances of blood rain usually cover small
areas. The duration can vary, sometimes lasting only a
short time, others several days. By the 17th century,
explanations for the phenomenon had moved away from
the supernatural and attempted to provide natural
reasons. In the 19th century blood rains were
scientifically examined and theories that dust gave the
water its red colour gained ground. Today, the dominant
theories are that the rain is caused by red dust
suspended in the water (rain dust), or due to the
presence of micro-organisms. Alternative explanations
include sunspots and aurorae, and in the case of the red
rain in Kerala in 2001, dust from meteorites and
extraterrestrial cells in the water.

History and use in literature

Occurrences of blood rain throughout history are distributed from the ancient, to the modern
day. The earliest literary instance is in Homer's Iliad, in which Zeus twice caused a rain of
blood, on one occasion to warn of slaughter in a battle. The same portent occurs in the work
of the poet Hesiod, writing around 700 BC; The author John Tatlock suggests that Hesiod's
story may have been influenced by that recorded in the Iliad. The first-century Greek
biographer Plutarch also recounts a tradition of a rain of blood during the reign of Romulus,
founder of Rome. Roman authors Livy and Pliny record some later cases of blood rain, with
Livy describing it as a bad portent.

Unusual events such as a rain of blood were considered bad omens in Antiquity, and this belief
persisted through the Middle Ages and well into the Early modern period. Throughout northern
and western Europe there are many cases of rains of blood which were used by contemporary
writers to augur bad events: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in 685, "there was a
bloody rain in Britain. And milk and butter were turned to blood. And Lothere, king of Kent,
died". Tatlock suggests that although the Chronicle was written long after the events, it may
have basis in historical truth. He notes that although the rain may seem to be foreshadowing
the death of Lothere, medieval chroniclers often noted unusual occurrences in their works
"merely for their general interest". Gregory of Tours records that in 582 "In the territory of
Paris there rained real blood from the clouds, falling upon the garments of many men, who
were so stained and spotted that they stripped themselves of their own clothing in horror".
Although the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th-century writer who popularised the
legends of King Arthur, is regarded as "fantastical" rather than reliable, he too notes the
occurrence of blood rain, in the reign of Rivallo. This event was further expanded on by
Layamon in his poem Brut (written around 1190), who described how blood rain was one of
several portents, and which itself led to destruction:

In the same time here came a strange token, such as before never came, nor never
hitherto since. From heaven here came a marvellous flood; three days it rained blood,
three days and three nights. That was exceeding great harm! When the rain was gone,
here came another token anon. Here came black flies, and flew in men's eyes; in their
mouth, in their nose, their lives went all to destruction; such multitude of flies here
was that they ate the corn and the grass. Woe was all the folk that dwelt in the land!
Thereafter came such a mortality that few here remained alive. Afterward here came
an evil hap, that king Riwald died.

Many works which record occurrences of blood rain, such as that of Layamon, were written
significantly after the event was supposed to have taken place. The 14th-century monk Ralph
Higden in his work, the Polchronicon, recounts that in 787 there was a rain of blood, perhaps
intended by the author as an indication of the coming Viking invasion. Written in the 12th
century, the Book of Leinster records many sensational events, including showers of silver; it
records a shower of blood in 868.

In the work of William of Newburgh, a rain of blood proves the drive and determination of
Richard the Lionheart. According to William of Newburgh, a contemporary chronicler, in May
1198 Richard and the labourers working on the castle were drenched in a "rain of blood".
While some of his advisers thought the rain was an evil omen, Richard was undeterred:

the king was not moved by this to slacken one whit the pace of work, in which he
took such keen pleasure that, unless I am mistaken, even if an angel had descended
from heaven to urge its abandonment he would have been roundly cursed.
William of Newburgh

In Germany, a shower of blood was one of several portents for the arrival of the Black Death
in 13481349. The phenomenon gained exposure to a wide audience in the 16th century,
during the Renaissance, when it was used as an example of the power of God; a form of
literature using prodigies such as blood rain as cautions against immorality proliferated across
Europe having originated in Italy. In Germany, such works were particularly popular amongst
Protestants. Although unusual events such as rains of blood were still treated with
superstition, often as demonstrations of godly power, Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580
1637) was one of the few who proposed natural causes; after hearing of a bloody rain in Aix-
en-Provence, he suggested it was caused by butterflies. Although his theory would later be
rejected, he helped the likes of Pierre Gassendi and Ren Antoine Ferchault de Raumur to lay
the foundations for removing superstition from explanations of the phenomenon.

In Europe, there were fewer than 30 recorded cases all together of blood rain in the 13th,
14th, and 15th centuries. There were 190 instances across the 16th and 17th centuries; there
was a decline in the 17th century when only 43 were recorded, but this picked up again with
146 in the 19th century.There is little literature on the subject of blood rain, although it has
gained the attention of some naturalists. The phenomenon received international coverage in
2001, after red rain fell in Kerala, India, and again in 2012.


Photomicrograph of particles from a sample of red rain
from Kerala

While most ancient authors, such as Hesiod and Pliny,
tended to ascribe the rain to the acts of gods, Cicero
rejected the idea and instead suggested that the red
rain may be caused by "ex aliqua contagion terrena",
"from some earthly contagion". The two cases in the
Iliad are explained by Heraclitus as simply red-coloured
rain rather than literally blood; however, a later
scholiast (a critical or explanatory commentator)
suggests that it was precipitation of blood which had
evaporated earlier: after a battle, blood would flow into
nearby water courses, evaporate, and then fall as rain. This explanation demonstrating
unfamiliarity with the properties of distillation was echoed by Eustathius of Thessalonica, a
12th-century archbishop.

Tatlock, in a study of some medieval cases of blood rain, notes that the medieval cases of
blood rain "agree well" with their classical counterparts. Although there are variables for
example the rain sometimes lasted only for a short period, while on other occasions it can last
days they were widely considered to be bad omens, and warnings of events to come. He
also suggests that the phenomenon may only be recorded in small areas because the colour of
the rain would not always be noticed, and may only be obvious against pale backgrounds. In
the classical period, events such as a shower of blood was seen a demonstration of godly
power; in the medieval period, Christians were less inclined to attribute the phenomenon to
such reasons, although followers of nature-religions were happy to do so.

In the 19th century, there was a trend towards examining events such as rains of blood more
scientifically; Ehrenberg conducted experiments at the Berlin Academy, attempting to recreate
"blood rain" using dust mixed with water. He concluded that blood rain was caused by water
mixing with a reddish dust mostly composed of animal and vegetable matter. He was unclear
on the origin of the dust, stating that it lacked the characteristics of African dust which might
have indicated it came from the Sahara Desert. Instead, he suggested that the dust came
from dried swamps where it was picked up by violent winds and would later fall as rain. This
explanation has persisted, and the Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology
(1992) attributes the colour of blood rain to the presence of dust containing iron oxide.

Other reasons for blood rain aside from dust are sometimes given. Schove and Peng-Yoke
have suggested that the phenomenon may be connected to sunspots and aurorae.

When red rain fell in Kerala, dust was the suspected cause. Alternative theories included dust
from a meteorite and extraterrestrial cells in the water. These were later dismissed. The
particles causing the red colour in Kerala were "morphologically similar" to algae and fungal

Red rain in Kerala

The Kerala red rain phenomenon was a blood rain (red
rain) event that occurred from July 25 to September 23,
2001, when heavy downpours of red-coloured rain fell
sporadically on the southern Indian state of Kerala,
staining clothes pink. Yellow, green, and black rain was
also reported. Colored rain was also reported in Kerala
in 1896 and several times since, most recently in June

Following a light microscopy examination, it was initially
thought that the rains were colored by fallout from a
hypothetical meteor burst, but a study commissioned by
the Government of India concluded that the rains had
been colored by airborne spores from locally prolific
terrestrial algae.

It was not until early 2006 that the colored rains of
Kerala gained widespread attention when the popular
media reported that Godfrey Louis and Santhosh Kumar
of the Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam proposed
a controversial argument that the colored particles were
extraterrestrial cells.

Red rains were also reported from November 15, 2012
to December 27, 2012 occasionally in eastern and
north-central provinces of Sri Lanka, where scientists from the Sri Lanka Medical Research
Institute (MRI) are investigating to ascertain their cause.


The colored rain of Kerala began falling on July 25, 2001, in the districts of Kottayam and
Idukki in the southern part of the state. Yellow, green, and black rain was also reported.
Many more occurrences of the red rain were reported over the following ten days, and then
with diminishing frequency until late September. According to locals, the first colored rain was
preceded by a loud thunderclap and flash of light, and followed by groves of trees shedding
shriveled grey "burnt" leaves. Shriveled leaves and the disappearance and sudden formation
of wells were also reported around the same time in the area. It typically fell over small areas,
no more than a few square kilometers in size, and was sometimes so localized that normal
rain could be falling just a few meters away from the red rain. Red rainfalls typically lasted
less than 20 minutes. Each milliliter of rain water contained about 9 million red particles, and
each liter of rainwater contained approximately 100 milligrams of solids. Extrapolating these
figures to the total amount of red rain estimated to have fallen, it was estimated that 50,000
kilograms (110,000 lb) of red particles had fallen on Kerala.

Alternative hypotheses

History records many instances of unusual objects falling with the rain in 2000, in an
example of raining animals, a small waterspout in the North Sea sucked up a school of fish a
mile off shore, depositing them shortly afterwards on Great Yarmouth in the United Kingdom.
Colored rain is by no means rare, and can often be explained by the airborne transport of rain
dust from desert or other dry regions which is washed down by rain. "Red Rains" have been
frequently described in southern Europe, with increasing reports in recent years. One such
case occurred in England in 1903, when dust was carried from the Sahara and fell with rain in
February of that year.

At first, the red rain in Kerala was attributed to the same effect, with dust from the deserts of
Arabia initially the suspect. LIDAR observations had detected a cloud of dust in the
atmosphere near Kerala in the days preceding the outbreak of the red rain. However,
laboratory tests from all involved teams ruled out the particles were desert sand.

K.K. Sasidharan Pillai, a senior scientific assistant in the Indian Meteorological Department,
proposed dust and acidic material from an eruption of Mayon Volcano in the Philippines as an
explanation for the colored rain and the "burnt" leaves. The volcano was erupting in June and
July 2001 and Pillai calculated that the Eastern or Equatorial jet stream could have transported
volcanic material to Kerala in 2536 hours. The Equatorial jet stream is unusual in that it flows
from east to west at about 10 N, approximately the same latitude as Kerala (8 N) and
Mayon Volcano (13 N). This hypothesis was also ruled out as the particles were neither acidic
nor of volcanic origin, but were spores.

A study has been published showing a correlation between historic reports of colored rains and
of meteors; the author of the paper, Patrick McCafferty, stated that sixty of these events
(colored rain), or 36%, were linked to meteoritic or cometary activity. But not always strongly.
Sometimes the fall of red rain seems to have occurred after an airburst, as from a meteor
exploding in air; other times the odd rainfall is merely recorded in the same year as the
appearance of a comet.

Panspermia hypothesis

In 2003 Godfrey Louis and Santhosh Kumar, physicists at the Mahatma Gandhi University in
Kottayam, Kerala, posted an article entitled "Cometary panspermia explains the red rain of
Kerala" in the on-line, non-peer reviewed arXiv web site. While the CESS report said there was
no apparent relationship between the loud sound (possibly a sonic boom) and flash of light
which preceded the red rain, to Louis and Kumar it was a key piece of evidence. They
proposed that a meteor (from a comet containing the red particles) caused the sound and
flash and when it disintegrated over Kerala it released the red particles which slowly fell to the
ground. However, they omitted an explanation on how debris from a meteor continued to fall
in the same area over a period of two months while unaffected from winds.

Their work indicated that the particles were of biological origin (consistent with the CESS
report), however, they invoked the panspermia hypothesis to explain the presence of cells in a
supposed fall of meteoric material. Additionally, using ethidium bromide they were unable to
detect DNA or RNA in the particles. Two months later they posted another paper on the same
web site entitled "New biology of red rain extremophiles prove cometary panspermia" in which
they reported that:

"The microorganism isolated from the red rain of Kerala shows very extraordinary
characteristics, like the ability to grow optimally at 300C (572F) and the capacity to
metabolize a wide range of organic and inorganic materials."

These claims and data have yet to be verified and reported in any peer reviewed publication.
In 2006 Louis and Kumar published a paper in Astrophysics and Space Science entitled "The
red rain phenomenon of Kerala and its possible extraterrestrial origin" which reiterated their
arguments that the red rain was biological matter from an extraterrestrial source but made no
mention of their previous claims to having induced the cells to grow. The team also observed
the cells using phase contrast fluorescence microscopy, and they concluded that: "The
fluorescence behaviour of the red cells is shown to be in remarkable correspondence with the
extended red emission observed in the Red Rectangle Nebula and other galactic and
extragalactic dust clouds, suggesting, though not proving an extraterrestrial origin." One of
their conclusions was that if the red rain particles are biological cells and are of cometary
origin, then this phenomenon can be a case of cometary panspermia.

On August 2008 Louis and Kumar again presented their case in an astrobiology conference.
The abstract for paper states that:

"The red cells found in the red rain in Kerala, India are now considered as a
possible case of extraterrestrial life form. These cells can undergo rapid replication
even at an extreme high temperature of 300 C. They can also be cultured in diverse
unconventional chemical substrates. The molecular composition of these cells is yet to
be identified".

On September 2010 he presented a similar paper at a conference in California, U.S.A.

Cosmic ancestry

Researcher Chandra Wickramasinghe used Louis and Kumar's "extraterrestrial origin" claim to
further support his panspermia hypothesis called cosmic ancestry. This hypothesis postulates
that life is neither the product of supernatural creation, nor is it spontaneously generated
through abiogenesis, but that it has always existed in the universe. According to the theory,
higher life forms, including intelligent life, descend ultimately from pre-existing life which was
at least as advanced as the descendants.

Official report

Initially, the Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS)
stated that the likely cause of the red rain was an
exploding meteor, which had dispersed about 1,000 kg
(one ton) of material. A few days later, following a basic
light microscopy evaluation, the CESS retracted this as
they noticed the particles resembled spores, and
because debris from a meteor would not have continued
to fall from the stratosphere onto the same area while
unaffected by wind. A sample was, therefore, handed
over to the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research
Institute (TBGRI) for microbiological studies, where the
spores were allowed to grow in a medium suitable for
growth of algae and fungi. The inoculated Petri dishes
and conical flasks were incubated for three to seven
days and the cultures were observed under a

Trentepohlia on Cryptomeria japonica bark

In November 2001, commissioned by the Government
of India's Department of Science & Technology, the
Center for Earth Science Studies (CESS) and the
Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI) issued a joint report which
concluded that:

The color was found to be due to the presence of a large amount of spores of a
lichen-forming alga belonging to the genus Trentepohlia. Field verification showed that
the region had plenty of such lichens. Samples of lichen taken from Changanacherry
area, when cultured in an algal growth medium, also showed the presence of the same
species of algae. Both samples (from rainwater and from trees) produced the same
kind of algae, indicating that the spores seen in the rainwater most probably came
from local sources.

The site was again visited on August 16, 2001 and it was found that almost all the trees, rocks
and even lamp posts in the region were covered with Trentepohlia estimated to be in sufficient
amounts to generate the quantity of spores seen in the rainwater. Although red or orange,
Trentepohlia is a Chlorophyte green alga which can grow abundantly on tree bark or damp soil
and rocks, but is also the photosynthetic symbiont or photobiont of many lichens, including
some of those abundant on the trees in Changanacherry area. The strong orange colour of the
algae, which masks the green of the chlorophyll, is caused by the presence of large quantities
of orange carotenoid pigments. A lichen is not a single organism, but the result of a
partnership (symbiosis) between a fungus and an alga or cyanobacterium.

The report also stated that there was no meteoric, volcanic or desert dust origin present in the
rainwater and that its color was not due to any dissolved gases or pollutants. The report
concluded that heavy rains in Kerala -in the weeks preceding the red rains- could have caused
the widespread growth of lichens, which had given rise to a large quantity of spores into the
atmosphere. However, for these lichen to release their spores simultaneously, it is necessary
for them to enter their reproductive phase at about the same time. The CESS report noted
that while this may be a possibility, it is quite improbable. Also, they could find no satisfactory
explanation for the apparently extraordinary dispersal, nor for the apparent uptake of the
spores into clouds. CESS scientists noted that "While the cause of the color in the rainfall has
been identified, finding the answers to these questions is a challenge." Attempting to explain
the unusual spore proliferation and dispersal, researcher Ian Goddard proposed several local
atmospheric models.

Parts of the CESS/TBGRI report were supported by Dr. Milton Wainwright at Sheffield
University, who, together with Chandra Wickramasinghe, has studied stratospheric spores. In
March 2006 Wainwright said the particles were similar in appearance to spores of a rust
fungus, later saying that he had confirmed the presence of DNA, and reported their similarity
to algal spores, and found no evidence to suggest that the rain contained dust, sand, fat
globules, or blood. In November 2012, Dr. Rajkumar Gangappa and Dr. Stuart Hogg from the
University of Glamorgan, U.K., confirmed that the red rain cells from Kerala contain DNA.

Most recently, colored rainfall occurred over Kerala during the summers of 2001, 2006, 2007,
2008, and 2012; since 2001, the botanists have found the same Trentepohlia spores every
time. This supports the notion that the lichen spores are a seasonal local environmental
feature, rather than Kerala being some kind of a magnet for alien-microbe infested meteors.

Crop Circles

A 780 ft (240 m) crop circle in the
form of a double (six-sided)
triskelion composed of 409 circles.
Milk Hill, England, 2001
A crop circle is a sizable pattern
created by the flattening of a crop
such as wheat, barley, rye, maize,
or rapeseed. Crop circles are also
referred to as crop formations,
because they are not always circular
in shape. While the exact date crop
circles began to appear is unknown,
the documented cases have
substantially increased from the
1970s to current times. Twenty-six
countries reported approximately
ten thousand crop circles in the last
third of the 20th century. Ninety percent of those were located in southern England. Many of
the formations
appearing in that area are positioned near ancient monuments, such as Stonehenge.
According to one study, nearly half of all circles found in the UK in 2003 were located within a
15 km (9.3 miles) radius of Avebury.

1678 pamphlet on the "Mowing-Devil".The earliest recorded
image resembling a crop circle is depicted in a 17th century
English woodcut called the Mowing-Devil. The image depicts
the Devil with a scythe mowing (cutting) a circular design in a
field of oats. The pamphlet containing the image states that
the farmer, disgusted at the wage his mower was demanding
for his work, insisted that he would rather have "the devil
himself" perform the task.

A historical report of crop circles, republished (from Nature,
1880) in January 2000 Journal of Meteorology describes the
1880 investigations by amateur scientist John Rand Capron:

The storms about this part of Surrey have been lately
local and violent, and the effects produced in some
instances curious. Visiting a neighbour's farm on
Wednesday evening (21st), we found a field of standing wheat considerably knocked
about, not as an entirety, but in patches forming, as viewed from a distance, circular
spots....I could not trace locally any circumstances accounting for the peculiar forms of
the patches in the field, nor indicating whether it was wind or rain, or both combined,
which had caused them, beyond the general evidence everywhere of heavy rainfall.
They were suggestive to me of some cyclonic wind action ...

Most historical accounts of crop circles are anecdotal, in some cases describing crops being cut
or burnt rather than flattened. One report given in 1966 from the town of Tully, Queensland,
Australia, came from a sugar cane farmer who said he witnessed a saucer-shaped craft rise 30
or 40 feet (12 m) up from a swamp and then fly away. When he went to investigate the
location where he thought the saucer had landed, he found the reeds intricately woven in a
clockwise fashion on top of the water. Reportedly, the woven reeds are said to have been able
to hold the weight of 10 men.

Crop circles arose public attention in the late 1970s as many circles began appearing
throughout the English countryside. This phenomenon became widely known in the late 1980s,
after the media started to report crop circles in Hampshire and Wiltshire. To date,
approximately 10,000 crop circles have been reported internationally, from locations such as
the former Soviet Union, the UK, Japan, the U.S. and Canada. Skeptics note a correlation
between crop circles, recent media coverage, and the absence of fencing and/or anti-
trespassing legislation.

Although farmers have expressed concern at the damage caused to their crops, local response
to the appearance of crop circles can be enthusiastic, with locals taking advantage of the
increase of tourism and visits from scientists, crop circle researchers, and individuals seeking
spiritual experiences. The market for crop-circle interest has consequently generated bus or
helicopter tours of circle sites, walking tours, T-shirts and book sales.

The last decade has witnessed crop formations with increased size and complexity of form,
some featuring as many as 2000 different shapes, and some incorporating complex
mathematical and scientific characteristics.

Bower and Chorley

In 1991, self-professed pranksters Doug Bower and Dave Chorley made headlines claiming
it was they who started the phenomenon in 1978 with the use of simple tools consisting of a
plank of wood, rope, and a baseball cap fitted with a loop of wire to help them walk in a
straight line. Inspired by Australian crop circle accounts from 1966, Doug and Dave reportedly
made more than 200 crop circles from 19781991 and claimed to be responsible for most if
not all circles made prior to 1987. After their announcement, in a demonstration the two men
made a crop circle in one hour. Despite general acceptance of their story, crop circle
researchers remain skeptical of many of their claims. Since their revelation, crop formations
have continued to appear each year, often in greater number, size, and complexity.

Art and business

Since the early 1990s the UK arts collective founded by artists Rod Dickinson and John
Lundberg (and subsequently includes artists Wil Russell and Rob Irving), named the
Circlemakers, have been creating some crop circles in the UK and around the world both as
part of their art practice and for commercial clients.

On the night of July 1112, 1992, a crop-circle making competition, for a prize of several
thousand UK pounds (partly funded by the Arthur Koestler Foundation), was held in Berkshire.
The winning entry was produced by three Westland Helicopters engineers, using rope, PVC
pipe, a trestle and a ladder. Another competitor used a small garden roller, a plank and some

In 2002, Discovery Channel commissioned five aeronautics and astronautics graduate students
from MIT to create crop circles of their own, aiming to duplicate some of the features claimed
to distinguish "real" crop circles from the known fakes such as those created by Bower and
Chorley. The creation of the circle was recorded and used in the Discovery Channel
documentary Crop Circles: Mysteries in the Fields.

Legal implications

In 1992 Hungarian youths Gbor Takcs and Rbert Dallos, both then 17, were the first
people to face legal action after creating a crop circle. Takcs and Dallos, of the St. Stephen
Agricultural Technicum, a high school in Hungary specializing in agriculture, created a 36-
metre (118 ft) diameter crop circle in a wheat field near Szkesfehrvr, 43 miles (69 km)
southwest of Budapest, on June 8, 1992. On September 3, the pair appeared on Hungarian TV
and exposed the circle as a hoax, showing photos of the field before and after the circle was
made. As a result, Aranykalsz Co., the owners of the land, sued the youngsters for 630,000
Ft (approximately US$3,000) in damages. The presiding judge ruled that the students were
only responsible for the damage caused in the circle itself, amounting to about 6,000 Ft
(approximately US$30), and that 99% of the damage to the crops was caused by the
thousands of visitors who flocked to Szkesfehrvr following the media's promotion of the
circle. The fine was eventually paid by the TV show, as were the students' legal fees.

In 2000, Matthew Williams became the first man in the UK to be arrested for causing criminal
damage after making a crop circle near Devizes.


Formations usually are made overnight, but have also been made during the day. While it is
not known how all crop circles are formed, various theories have been put forth ranging from
natural phenomenon and man-made hoaxes, to the paranormal and even animals.


The most widely known method for a person or group to construct a crop formation is to tie
one end of a rope to an anchor point, and the other end to a board which is used to crush the
plants. Some crop formations are paid for by companies who use them as advertising. As an
explanation of some of the more complex formations, physicists have suggested the use of
GPS, lasers, and portable microwave generators.


Some have suggested crop circles are the result of extraordinary meteorological phenomena
ranging from freak tornadoes to ball lightning. The first known published reference to the
possibility of crop formations being the result of natural phenomena dates back to 1880 in
which investigator and amateur scientist John Rand Capron theorized the formations may have
been the product of "cyclonic wind action..." Physicist Stephen Hawking expressed the opinion
in 1992 that, "Corn circles are either hoaxes or formed by vortex movement of air".

Animal activity

In 2009, the attorney general for the island state of Tasmania stated that Australian wallabies
had been found creating crop circles in fields of opium poppies, which are grown legally for
medicinal use, after consuming some of the opiate-laden poppies and running in circles.


Sketch of a 'spaceship' creating crop circles, sent to UK Ministry of Defence circa 1998. Since
appearing in the media in the 1970s, crop circles have become the subject of speculation by
various paranormal, ufological, and anomalistic investigators ranging from proposals that they
were created by bizarre meteorological phenomena to messages from extraterrestrial beings.

Many crop circles have been found near ancient sites such as Stonehenge, a prehistoric
monument located in the English county of Wiltshire. They have also been found near mounds
of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves, also known as tumuli barrows, or barrows
and chalk horses, or trenches dug and filled with rubble made from brighter material than the
natural bedrock, often chalk. There has also been speculation that crop circles have a relation
to ley lines. Many New Age groups incorporate crop circles into their belief systems.

Some have related crop circles to the Gaia hypothesis, alleging that "Gaia", the earth, is
actually alive and that crop circles are messages or responses to stimuli such as global
warming and human pollution. It asserts that the earth may be modeled as if a single super-
organism, in that earthly components (e.g. biota, climate, temperature, sunlight, etc.)
influence each other and are organized to function and develop as a whole.

The main criticism of alleged non-human creation of crop circles is that while evidence of these
origins, besides eyewitness testimonies, is essentially absent, some are definitely known to be
the work of human pranksters and others can be adequately explained as such. There have
been cases in which researchers declared crop circles to be "the real thing", only to be
confronted with the people who created the circle and documented the fraud. In his 1997 book
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan discussed alien-
based theories of crop circle formation. Sagan concluded that no empirical evidence existed to
link UFOs with crop circles. Many others have demonstrated how complex crop circles can be
created. Scientific American published an article by Matt Ridley, who started making crop
circles in northern England in 1991. He wrote about how easy it is to develop techniques using
simple tools that can easily fool later observers. He reported on "expert" sources such as the
Wall Street Journal who had been easily fooled and mused about why people want to believe
supernatural explanations for phenomena that are not yet explained. Methods of creating a
crop circle are now well documented on the Internet.

Among others, paranormal enthusiasts, ufologists, and anomalistic investigators have offered
hypothetical explanations that have been criticized as pseudoscientific by skeptical groups like
the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

Responding to local beliefs that "extraterrestrial beings" in UFOs were responsible for crop
circles appearing in Indonesia, the government and the National Aeronautics and Space
Agency (Lapan) described them as "man-made". Thomas Djamaluddin, research professor of
astronomy and astrophysics at Lapan stated: "We have come to agree that this 'thing' cannot
be scientifically proven. Scientists have put UFOs in the category of pseudoscience."


A crop circle in Switzerland.

Aerial view of crop formation in
Diessenhofen, Switzerland, July 2008

A crop circle in the form of a triskelion


An eclipse is an astronomical event that occurs
when an astronomical object is temporarily
obscured, either by passing into the shadow of
another body or by having another body pass
between it and the viewer. An eclipse is a type of

Totality during the 1999 solar eclipse. Solar
prominences can be seen along the limb (in red) as
well as extensive coronal filaments.

The term eclipse is most often used to describe
either a solar eclipse, when the Moon's shadow
crosses the Earth's surface, or a lunar eclipse,
when the Moon moves into the Earth's shadow.
However, it can also refer to such events beyond
the Earth-Moon system: for example, a planet
moving into the shadow cast by one of its moons, a moon passing into the shadow cast by its
host planet, or a moon passing into the shadow of another moon. A binary star system can
also produce eclipses if the plane of the orbit of its constituent stars intersects the observer's


The term is derived from the ancient Greek noun (kleipsis), which means "the
abandonment", "the downfall", or "the darkening of a heavenly body", which is derived from
the verb (eklep) which means "to abandon", "to darken", or "to cease to exist," a
combination of prefix - (ek-), from preposition (ek), "out," and of verb (lep), "to
be absent".

Umbra, penumbra and antumbra

Umbra, penumbra and antumbra cast by an
opaque object occulting a larger light source.

The region of the Moon's shadow in a solar eclipse is divided into three parts:

The umbra, within which the Moon completely covers the Sun (more precisely, its
The antumbra, extending beyond the tip of the umbra, within which the Moon is
completely in front of the Sun but too small to completely cover it.
The penumbra, within which the Moon is only partially in front of the Sun.

During a lunar eclipse only the umbra and penumbra are applicable. This is because Earth's
apparent diameter from the viewpoint of the Moon is nearly four times that of the Sun.

The first contact occurs when the Moon's disc first starts to impinge on the Sun's; second
contact is when the Moon's disc moves completely within the Sun's; third contact when it
starts to move out of the Sun's; and fourth or last contact when it finally leaves the Sun's disc

The same terms may be used analogously in describing other eclipses, e.g., the antumbra of
Deimos crossing Mars, or Phobos entering Mars's penumbra.

A total eclipse occurs when the observer is within the umbra, an annular eclipse when the
observer is within the antumbra, and a partial eclipse when the observer is within the

For spherical bodies, when the occulting object is smaller than the star, the length (L) of the
umbra's cone-shaped shadow is given by:

where Rs is the radius of the star, Ro is the occulting object's radius, and r is the distance
from the star to the occulting object. For Earth, on average L is equal to 1.384106 km, which
is much larger than the Moon's semimajor axis of 3.844105 km. Hence the umbral cone of
the Earth can completely envelop the Moon during a lunar eclipse. If the occulting object has
an atmosphere, however, some of the luminosity of the star can be refracted into the volume
of the umbra. This occurs, for example, during an eclipse of the Moon by the Earthproducing
a faint, ruddy illumination of the Moon even at totality.
Eclipse cycles

An eclipse cycle takes place when a series of eclipses are separated by a certain interval of
time. This happens when the orbital motions of the bodies form repeating harmonic patterns.
A particular instance is the saros, which results in a repetition of a solar or lunar eclipse every
6,585.3 days, or a little over 18 years (because this is not a whole number of days, successive
eclipses will be visible from different parts of the world).
Earth-Moon System

A symbolic orbital diagram from the view of the
Earth at the center, with the sun and moon
projected upon the celestial sphere, showing the
Moon's two nodes where eclipses can occur.

An eclipse involving the Sun, Earth and Moon can
occur only when they are nearly in a straight line,
allowing one to be hidden behind another, viewed
from the third. Because the orbital plane of the
Moon is tilted with respect to the orbital plane of the
Earth (the ecliptic), eclipses can occur only when
the Moon is close to the intersection of these two planes (the nodes). The Sun, Earth and
nodes are aligned twice a year (during an eclipse season), and eclipses can occur during a
period of about two months around these times. There can be from four to seven eclipses in a
calendar year, which repeat according to various eclipse cycles, such as a saros.

Between 1901 and 2100 there are the maximum of seven eclipses in:

four (penumbral) lunar and three solar eclipses: 1908, 2038.
four solar and three lunar eclipses: 1917, 1973, 2094.
five solar and two lunar eclipses: 1934.

Excluding penumbral lunar eclipses, there are a maximum of seven eclipses in:

1591, 1656, 1787, 1805, 1917, 1935, 1982, and 2094.

Solar eclipse

Geometry of a total solar eclipse (not to

As observed from the Earth, a solar eclipse
occurs when the Moon passes in front of
the Sun. The type of solar eclipse event
depends on the distance of the Moon from
the Earth during the event. A total solar
eclipse occurs when the Earth intersects
the umbra portion of the Moon's shadow.
When the umbra does not reach the
surface of the Earth, the Sun is only
partially occulted, resulting in an annular
eclipse. Partial solar eclipses occur when
the viewer is inside the penumbra.

The eclipse magnitude is the fraction of the Sun's diameter that is covered by the Moon. For a
total eclipse, this value is always greater than or equal to one. In both annular and total
eclipses, the eclipse magnitude is the ratio of the angular sizes of the Moon to the Sun.

Solar eclipses are relatively brief events that can only be viewed in totality along a relatively
narrow track. Under the most favorable circumstances, a total solar eclipse can last for 7
minutes, 31 seconds, and can be viewed along a track that is up to 250 km wide. However,
the region where a partial eclipse can be observed is much larger. The Moon's umbra will
advance eastward at a rate of 1,700 km/h, until it no longer intersects the Earth's surface.

During a solar eclipse, the Moon can sometimes perfectly cover the Sun because its size is
nearly the same as the Sun's when viewed from the Earth. A total solar eclipse is in fact an
occultation while an annular solar eclipse is a transit.

When observed at points in space other than from the Earth's surface, the Sun can be eclipsed
by bodies other than the Moon. Two examples include when the crew of Apollo 12 observed
the Earth to eclipse the Sun in 1969 and when the Cassini probe observed Saturn to eclipse
the Sun in 2006.

Lunar eclipse

The progression of a lunar eclipse. Totality is
shown with the last two images to lower right.
These required a longer exposure time to make the
details visible.

Lunar eclipses occur when the Moon passes
through the Earth's shadow. Since this occurs only
when the Moon is on the far side of the Earth from
the Sun, lunar eclipses only occur when there is a
full moon. Unlike a solar eclipse, an eclipse of the
Moon can be observed from nearly an entire
hemisphere. For this reason it is much more
common to observe a lunar eclipse from a given
location. A lunar eclipse also lasts longer, taking several hours to complete, with totality itself
usually averaging anywhere from about 30 minutes to over an hour.

There are three types of lunar eclipses: penumbral, when the Moon crosses only the Earth's
penumbra; partial, when the Moon crosses partially into the Earth's umbra; and total, when
the Moon crosses entirely into the Earth's umbra. Total lunar eclipses pass through all three
phases. Even during a total lunar eclipse, however, the Moon is not completely dark. Sunlight
refracted through the Earth's atmosphere enters the umbra and provides a faint illumination.
Much as in a sunset, the atmosphere tends to more strongly scatter light with shorter
wavelengths, so the illumination of the Moon by refracted light has a red hue, thus the phrase
'Blood Moon' is often found in descriptions of such lunar events as far back as eclipses are

Historical record

Records of solar eclipses have been kept since ancient times. Eclipse dates can be used for
chronological dating of historical records. A Syrian clay tablet records a solar eclipse which
occurred on March 5, 1223 B.C., while Paul Griffin argues that a stone in Ireland records an
eclipse on November 30, 3340 B.C. Positing classical-era astronomers' use of Babylonian
eclipse records mostly from the 13th century BC provides a feasible and mathematically
consistent explanation for the Greek finding all three lunar mean motions (synodic,
anomalistic, draconitic) to a precision of about one part in a million or better. Chinese
historical records of solar eclipses date back over 4,000 years and have been used to measure
changes in the Earth's rate of spin.

By the 1600s, European astronomers were publishing books with diagrams explaining how
lunar and solar eclipses occurred. In order to disseminate this information to a broader
audience and decrease fear of the consequences of eclipses, booksellers printed broadsides
explaining the event either using the science or via astrology.

Some other planets and Pluto
Gas giants

A picture of Jupiter and its moon Io taken by Hubble.
The black spot is Io's shadow.

The gas giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and
Neptune) have many moons and thus frequently display
eclipses. The most striking involve Jupiter, which has
four large moons and a low axial tilt, making eclipses
more frequent as these bodies pass through the shadow
of the larger planet. Transits occur with equal
frequency. It is common to see the larger moons casting
circular shadows upon Jupiter's cloudtops.

The eclipses of the Galilean moons by Jupiter became
accurately predictable once their orbital elements were known. During the 1670s, it was
discovered that these events were occurring about 17 minutes later than expected when
Jupiter was on the far side of the Sun. Ole Rmer deduced that the delay was caused by the
time needed for light to travel from Jupiter to the Earth. This was used to produce the first
estimate of the speed of light.

On the other three gas giants, eclipses only occur at certain periods during the planet's orbit,
due to their higher inclination between the orbits of the moon and the orbital plane of the
planet. The moon Titan, for example, has an orbital plane tilted about 1.6 to Saturn's
equatorial plane. But Saturn has an axial tilt of nearly 27. The orbital plane of Titan only
crosses the line of sight to the Sun at two points along Saturn's orbit. As the orbital period of
Saturn is 29.7 years, an eclipse is only possible about every 15 years.

Saturn occults the Sun as seen from the Cassini
Huygens space probe

The timing of the Jovian satellite eclipses was also
used to calculate an observer's longitude upon the
Earth. By knowing the expected time when an
eclipse would be observed at a standard longitude
(such as Greenwich), the time difference could be
computed by accurately observing the local time of
the eclipse. The time difference gives the longitude of the observer because every hour of
difference corresponded to 15 around the Earth's equator. This technique was used, for
example, by Giovanni D. Cassini in 1679 to re-map France.


On Mars, only partial solar eclipses (transits) are possible,
because neither of its moons is large enough, at their
respective orbital radii, to cover the Sun's disc as seen
from the surface of the planet. Eclipses of the moons by
Mars are not only possible, but commonplace, with
hundreds occurring each Earth year. There are also rare
occasions when Deimos is eclipsed by Phobos. Martian
eclipses have been photographed from both the surface of
Mars and from orbit.


Pluto, with its proportionately large moon Charon, is also the site of many eclipses. A series of
such mutual eclipses occurred between 1985 and 1990. These daily events led to the first
accurate measurements of the physical parameters of both objects.
Mercury and Venus

Eclipses are impossible on Mercury and Venus, which have no moons. However, both have
been observed to transit across the face of the Sun. There are on average 13 transits of
Mercury each century. Transits of Venus occur in pairs separated by an interval of eight years,
but each pair of events happen less than once a century.

Eclipsing binaries

A binary star system consists of two stars that orbit around their common center of mass. The
movements of both stars lie on a common orbital plane in space. When this plane is very
closely aligned with the location of an observer, the stars can be seen to pass in front of each
other. The result is a type of extrinsic variable star system called an eclipsing binary.

The maximum luminosity of an eclipsing binary system is equal to the sum of the luminosity
contributions from the individual stars. When one star passes in front of the other, the
luminosity of the system is seen to decrease. The luminosity returns to normal once the two
stars are no longer in alignment.

The first eclipsing binary star system to be discovered was Algol, a star system in the
constellation Perseus. Normally this star system has a visual magnitude of 2.1. However,
every 2.867 days the magnitude decreases to 3.4 for more than nine hours. This is caused by
the passage of the dimmer member of the pair in front of the brighter star. The concept that
an eclipsing body caused these luminosity variations was introduced by John Goodricke in


The catalog of unexplained events includes many strange instances of stones falling from the
sky - or somewhere. Showers of stones, often from clear skies and in areas where rockslides
from mountains cannot be blamed. Hails of stones pummeling rooftops and people, often
causing damage and injury.

Investigations of these events usually end with unnerved victims and with officials scratching
their heads in puzzlement or, out of desperation, inventing "explanations" that are sometimes
as outlandish as the events themselves.

Reports of this particular type of mystery go back centuries and come from all over the world.
One of the earliest written accounts was by Robert Kirk in 1690, who attributed the throwing
of "great stons" to subterranean inhabitants that he called the "invisible wights." And an
unexplained stone-throwing incident that took place in New Hampshire was recorded in a
pamphlet entitled "Lithobolia, or the Stone-throwing Devil," published in London in 1698.

In some of these bizarre cases, the rain of stones occurs in connection with other paranormal
phenomena, such as a haunting or poltergeist activity. In the famous Bell Witch haunting of
1817, which included a host of strange goings-on, neighbors of the beleaguered Bells were
pelted with stones thrown by an unseen entity.

The phenomenon is defined by the inability of investigators to identify any assailants or
vandals, and usually by the lack of any motive for such an assault. So the questions arise:
Where do these phantom stones come from? Who or what is responsible for throwing or
dropping them? Are there natural explanations for the phenomenon? Consider these
remarkable cases and draw your own conclusions:

Harrisonville, Ohio, 1901
The stone attack on this small village began on the Sunday afternoon of October 13 when, as
the Buffalo Express reported, "a small boulder came crashing through the window of Zach
Dye's house." No culprit could be found around the isolated house... and this was just the
beginning. The next day, dozens of stones rained down in the heart of the village, breaking
windows and striking citizens. Were mischievous kids to blame? The next day, all of the male
children of the village were gathered together (how could girls do such a thing?), and stones
fell for a third day. None of the villagers could detect where the stones were coming from.

Sumatra, 1903
W. G. Grottendieck wrote about how small black stones, hot to the touch, came raining down
in his bedroom as 1 a.m. The most bizarre aspect of this case is that the stones seemed to
come through the roof without making holes in it, and they fell, he said, in a motion that was
slower than would be normal.

Marcinelle, Belgium, 1913
For four days in January one house was besieged by an invisible stone thrower with
remarkable accuracy. Police officers began to watch the house in an attempt to catch the
vandal, but one wrote in his report: "I have seen a stone arriving in the middle of a large
window-pane and then came others in spiral round the first point of impact.... I even saw, in
another window, a projectile caught in the fragments of the glass of the first hole it made, and
subsequently ejected by another passing through the same point." No stone-thrower was ever
seen, although an estimated 300 stones struck the house.

Ardeche, France, 1921
Most of these events are short-lived, lasting only a few days at most. But beginning in
September, a farmhouse in France was victimized for four months. The stones dropped at all
hours of the day, sometimes striking the family's children and a clergyman who was called in
to investigate. In this case, apples were also thrown and, again, with inhuman accuracy:
apples came speeding in through small holes in the shudders made by previous apples.

Hydrothermal vent

A hydrothermal vent is a fissure in a planet's surface from which geothermally heated water
issues. Hydrothermal vents are commonly found near volcanically active places, areas where
tectonic plates are moving apart, ocean basins, and hotspots. Hydrothermal vents exist
because the earth is both geologically active and has large amounts of water on its surface
and within its crust. Common land types include hot springs, fumaroles and geysers. Under
the sea, hydrothermal vents may form features called black smokers. Relative to the majority
of the deep sea, the areas around submarine hydrothermal vents are biologically more
productive, often hosting complex communities fueled by the chemicals dissolved in the vent
fluids. Chemosynthetic bacteria and archaea form the base of the food chain, supporting
diverse organisms, including giant tube worms, clams, limpets and shrimp. Active
hydrothermal vents are believed to exist on Jupiter's moon Europa, and ancient hydrothermal
vents have been speculated to exist on Mars.

Black smokers and white smokers

Some hydrothermal vents form roughly cylindrical chimney structures. These form from
minerals that are dissolved in the vent fluid. When the superheated water contacts the near-
freezing sea water, the minerals precipitate out to form particles which add to the height of
the stacks. Some of these chimney structures can reach heights of 60 m. An example of such
a towering vent was "Godzilla", a structure in the Pacific Ocean near Oregon that rose to 40 m
before it fell over.

A black smoker or sea vent is a type of hydrothermal vent found on the seabed, typically in
the abyssal and hadal zones. They appear as black, chimney-like structures that emit a cloud
of black material. The black smokers typically emit particles with high levels of sulfur-bearing
minerals, or sulfides. Black smokers are formed in fields hundreds of meters wide when
superheated water from below Earth's crust comes through the ocean floor. This water is rich
in dissolved minerals from the crust, most notably sulfides. When it comes in contact with cold
ocean water, many minerals precipitate, forming a black, chimney-like structure around each
vent. The deposited metal sulfides can become massive sulfide ore deposits in time.

Black smokers were first discovered in 1977 on the East Pacific Rise by scientists from Scripps
Institution of Oceanography. They were observed using a deep submergence vehicle called
ALVIN belonging to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Now, black smokers are known
to exist in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, at an average depth of 2100 metres. The most
northerly black smokers are a cluster of five named Loki's Castle, discovered in 2008 by
scientists from the University of Bergen at 73N, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Greenland
and Norway. These black smokers are of interest as they are in a more stable area of the
Earth's crust, where tectonic forces are less and consequently fields of hydrothermal vents are
less common. The world's deepest black smokers are located in the Cayman Trough, 5,000 m
(3.1 miles) below the ocean's surface.

White smoker vents emit lighter-hued minerals, such
as those containing barium, calcium, and silicon. These
vents also tend to have lower temperature plumes.
These alkaline hydrothermal vents also continuously
generate acetyl thioesters, providing both the starting
point for more complex organic molecules and the
energy needed to produce them. Microscopic structures
in such alkaline vents "show interconnected
compartments that provide an ideal hatchery for the
origin of life".

Biological communities

Life has traditionally been seen as driven by energy from the sun, but deep-sea organisms
have no access to sunlight, so they must depend on nutrients found in the dusty chemical
deposits and hydrothermal fluids in which they live. Previously, benthic oceanographers
assumed that vent organisms were dependent on marine snow, as deep-sea organisms are.
This would leave them dependent on plant life and thus the sun. Some hydrothermal vent
organisms do consume this "rain", but with only such a system, life forms would be very
sparse. Compared to the surrounding sea floor, however, hydrothermal vent zones have a
density of organisms 10,000 to 100,000 times greater.

Hydrothermal vent communities are able to sustain such vast amounts of life because vent
organisms depend on chemosynthetic bacteria for food. The water from the hydrothermal vent
is rich in dissolved minerals and supports a large population of chemoautotrophic bacteria.
These bacteria use sulfur compounds, particularly hydrogen sulfide, a chemical highly toxic to
most known organisms, to produce organic material through the process of chemosynthesis.

The ecosystem so formed is reliant upon the continued existence of the hydrothermal vent
field as the primary source of energy, which differs from most surface life on Earth, which is
based on solar energy. However, although it is often said that these communities exist
independently of the sun, some of the organisms are actually dependent upon oxygen
produced by photosynthetic organisms. Others are anaerobic, as was the earliest life.

The chemosynthetic bacteria grow into a thick mat which attracts other organisms, such as
amphipods and copepods, which graze upon the bacteria directly. Larger organisms, such as
snails, shrimp, crabs, tube worms, fish, and octopuses, form a food chain of predator and prey
relationships above the primary consumers. The main families of organisms found around
seafloor vents are annelids, pogonophorans, gastropods, and crustaceans, with large bivalves,
vestimentiferan worms, and "eyeless" shrimp making up the bulk of nonmicrobial organisms.

Tube worms, which may grow to over two meters tall, form an important part of the
community around a hydrothermal vent. They have no mouth or digestive tract, and like
parasitic worms, absorb nutrients produced by the bacteria in their tissues. About 285 billion
bacteria are found per ounce of tubeworm tissue. Tubeworms have red plumes which contain
hemoglobin. Hemoglobin combines with hydrogen sulfide and transfers it to the bacteria living
inside the worm. In return, the bacteria nourish the worm with carbon compounds. The two
species that inhabit a hydrothermal vent are Tevnia jerichonana, and Riftia pachyptila. One
discovered community, dubbed "Eel City", consists predominantly of eels. Though eels are not
uncommon, invertebrates typically dominate hydrothermal vents. Eel City is located near
Nafanua volcanic cone, American Samoa.

Other examples of the unique fauna which inhabit this ecosystem are the scaly-foot
gastropod Crysomallon squamiferum, a species of snail with a foot reinforced by scales
made of iron and organic materials, and the Pompeii worm Alvinella pompejana, which is
capable of withstanding temperatures up to 80 C (176 F).

In 1993, already more than 100 gastropod species were known to occur in hydrothermal
vents. Over 300 new species have been discovered at hydrothermal vents, many of them
"sister species" to others found in geographically separated vent areas. It has been proposed
that before the North American plate overrode the mid-ocean ridge, there was a single
biogeographic vent region found in the eastern Pacific. The subsequent barrier to travel began
the evolutionary divergence of species in different locations. The examples of convergent
evolution seen between distinct hydrothermal vents is seen as major support for the theory of
natural selection and of evolution as a whole.

Although life is very sparse at these depths, black smokers are the centers of entire
ecosystems. Sunlight is nonexistent, so many organisms such as archaea and extremophiles
convert the heat, methane, and sulfur compounds provided by black smokers into energy
through a process called chemosynthesis. More complex life forms, such as clams and
tubeworms, feed on these organisms. The organisms at the base of the food chain also deposit
minerals into the base of the black smoker, therefore completing the life cycle.

A species of phototrophic bacterium has been found living near a black smoker off the coast
of Mexico at a depth of 2,500 m (8,200 ft). No sunlight penetrates that far into the waters.
Instead, the bacteria, part of the Chlorobiaceae family, use the faint glow from the black
smoker for photosynthesis. This is the first organism discovered in nature to exclusively use a
light other than sunlight for photosynthesis.

New and unusual species are constantly being discovered in the neighborhood of black
smokers. The Pompeii worm was found in the 1980s, and a scaly-foot gastropod in 2001
during an expedition to the Indian Ocean's Kairei hydrothermal vent field. The latter uses iron
sulfides (pyrite and greigite) for the structure of its dermal sclerites (hardened body parts),
instead of calcium carbonate. The extreme pressure of 2500 m of water (approximately 25
megapascals or 250 atmospheres) is thought to play a role in stabilizing iron sulfide for
biological purposes. This armor plating probably serves as a defense against the venomous
radula (teeth) of predatory snails in that community.

Biological theories

Although the discovery of hydrothermal vents is a relatively recent event in the history of
science, the importance of this discovery has given rise to, and supported, new biological and
bio-atmospheric theories.

The deep hot biosphere

At the beginning of his 1992 paper The Deep Hot Biosphere, Thomas Gold referred to ocean
vents in support of his theory that the lower levels of the earth are rich in living biological
material that finds its way to the surface. He further expanded his ideas in the book The Deep
Hot Biosphere.

An article on abiogenic hydrocarbon production in the February 2008 issue of Science journal
used data from experiments at the Lost City hydrothermal field to report how the abiotic
synthesis of low molecular mass hydrocarbons from mantle derived carbon dioxide may occur
in the presence of ultramafic rocks, water, and moderate amounts of heat.

Hydrothermal origin of life

Gnter Wchtershuser proposed the iron-sulfur world theory and suggested that life might
have originated at hydrothermal vents. Wchtershuser proposed that an early form of
metabolism predated genetics. By metabolism he meant a cycle of chemical reactions that
release energy in a form that can be harnessed by other processes.

It has been proposed that amino-acid synthesis could have occurred deep in the Earth's crust
and that these amino-acids were subsequently shot up along with hydrothermal fluids into
cooler waters, where lower temperatures and the presence of clay minerals would have
fostered the formation of peptides and protocells. This is an attractive hypothesis because of
the abundance of CH4 (methane) and NH3 (ammonia) present in hydrothermal vent regions, a
condition that was not provided by the Earth's primitive atmosphere. A major limitation to this
hypothesis is the lack of stability of organic molecules at high temperatures, but some have
suggested that life would have originated outside of the zones of highest temperature. There
are numerous species of extremophiles and other organisms currently living immediately
around deep-sea vents, suggesting that this is indeed a possible scenario.

In 1949, a deep water survey reported anomalously hot brines in the central portion of the
Red Sea. Later work in the 1960s confirmed the presence of hot, 60 C (140 F), saline brines
and associated metalliferous muds. The hot solutions were emanating from an active
subseafloor rift. The highly saline character of the waters was not hospitable to living
organisms. The brines and associated muds are currently under investigation as a source of
mineable precious and base metals.

The chemosynthetic ecosystem surrounding submarine hydrothermal vents were discovered
along the Galapagos Rift, a spur of the East Pacific Rise, in 1977 by a group of marine
geologists led by Jack Corliss of Oregon State University. In 1979, biologists returned to the
rift and used DSV Alvin, an ONR research submersible from Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institute, to see the hydrothermal vent communities with their own eyes. In that same year,
Peter Lonsdale published the first scientific paper on hydrothermal vent life.

In 2005, Neptune Resources NL, a mineral exploration company, applied for and was granted
35,000 km of exploration rights over the Kermadec Arc in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic
Zone to explore for seafloor massive sulfide deposits, a potential new source of lead-zinc-
copper sulfides formed from modern hydrothermal vent fields. The discovery of a vent in the
Pacific Ocean offshore of Costa Rica, named the Medusa hydrothermal vent field (after the
serpent-haired Medusa of Greek mythology), was announced in April 2007. The Ashadze
hydrothermal field (13N on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, elevation -4200 m) was the deepest
known high-temperature hydrothermal field until 2010, when the Piccard site (1833N
8143W, elevation -5000 m) was discovered by a group of scientists from NASA Jet
Propulsion Laboratory and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. This site is located on the 110
km long, ultraslow spreading Mid-Cayman Rise within the Cayman Trough.


Hydrothermal vents, in some instances, have led to the formation of exploitable mineral
resources via deposition of seafloor massive sulfide deposits. The Mount Isa orebody located in
Queensland, Australia, is an excellent example.

Recently, mineral exploration companies, driven by the elevated price activity in the base
metals sector during the mid-2000s, have turned their attention to extraction of mineral
resources from hydrothermal fields on the seafloor. Significant cost reductions are, in theory,

Two companies are currently engaged in the late stages of commencing to mine seafloor
massive sulfides. Nautilus Minerals is in the advanced stages of commencing extraction from
its Solwarra deposit, in the Bismarck Archipelago, and Neptune Minerals is at an earlier stage
with its Rumble II West deposit, located on the Kermadec Arc, near the Kermadec Islands.
Both companies are proposing using modified existing technology. Nautilus Minerals, in
partnership with Placer Dome (now part of Barrick Gold), succeeded in 2006 in returning over
10 metric tons of mined SMS to the surface using modified drum cutters mounted on an ROV,
a world first. Neptune Minerals in 2007 succeeded in recovering SMS sediment samples using
a modified oil industry suction pump mounted on an ROV, also a world first.

Potential seafloor mining has environmental impacts including dust plumes from mining
machinery affecting filter feeding organisms, collapsing or reopening vents, methane clathrate
release, or even sub-oceanic land slides. A large amount of work is currently being engaged in
by both the above mentioned companies to ensure that potential environmental impacts of
seafloor mining are well understood and control measures are implemented, before
exploitation commences.

Attempts have been made in the past to exploit minerals from the seafloor. The 1960s and
70s saw a great deal of activity (and expenditure) in the recovery of manganese nodules from
the abyssal plains, with varying degrees of success. This does demonstrate however that
recovery of minerals from the seafloor is possible, and has been possible for some time.
Interestingly, mining of manganese nodules served as a cover story for the elaborate attempt
by the CIA to raise the sunken Soviet submarine K-129, using the Glomar Explorer, a ship
purpose built for the task by Howard Hughes. The operation was known as Project Azorian,
and the cover story of seafloor mining of manganese nodules may have served as the impetus
to propel other companies to make the attempt.

Limnic Eruption


More than 1,700 were killed after a limnic eruption from Lake Nyos in Cameroon, released
approximately 100 million cubic meters of carbon dioxide that quickly descended on the
lake and killed oxygen-dependent life within a 15-mile (25 kilometer) radius, including three
villages. The same phenomenon is also blamed for the deaths of 37 near Lake Monoun in


"21 August: 1986: Hundreds gassed in Cameroon lake disaster".

Low Gravity

Satellites solve mystery of low gravity over Canada
20:16 10 May 2007 by Kelly Young

The GRACE satellites have detected changes in the gravitational field over regions of Canada
that can be attributed to the crust bouncing back after the melting of a glacier 20,000 years
ago and convection in Earth's mantle (Illustration: Science/M Tamisiea)

If it seems Canadians weigh less than their
American neighbours, they do - but not for the
reasons you might think. A large swath of Canada
actually boasts lower gravity than its surroundings.

Researchers have puzzled for years over whether
this was due to the crust there rebounding slowly
after the end of the last ice age or a deeper issue
involving convection in the Earth's mantle - or
some combination of the two.

Now, ultra-precise measurements taken over four
years by a pair of satellites known as GRACE
(Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) reveal
that each effect is equally responsible for Canada's
low gravity. The work could shed light on how continents form and evolve over time.

GRACE, a joint mission of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, was launched into space
in 2002. The two spacecraft fly 500 kilometres above the Earth, 220 kilometres apart. Using a
microwave ranging system, the two spacecraft can measure distance differences between
them as tiny as a micron.

That allows them to measure tiny changes in the distribution of mass - and hence gravity - on
the Earth. For example, if the leading spacecraft were to encounter an area with more gravity,
it would be pulled ever-so-slightly closer to Earth than the trailing spacecraft, and that
distance can be measured.

Crushing weight
A team led by geophysicist Mark Tamisiea, who performed the work while at the Harvard-
Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, has now used GRACE
to study the gravitational low over Canada's Hudson Bay. Scientists first noticed this low in the
1960s, when the planet's first global gravity fields were mapped.

At first, researchers suspected it was due to an ice sheet called Laurentide that blanketed a
sizeable chunk of North America during the last ice age. In places, the sheet was more than 3
kilometres thick, and it depressed the Earth's crust beneath it.

When the ice age ended about 20,000 years ago, the ice rapidly melted. But the crust has
been springing back much more slowly, and it is rebounding today by about 12 millimetres per

But in the last decade or so, scientists have begun to suspect that convection in the Earth's
mantle, a layer of hot, flowing rock beneath the crust, also plays a role.

The sludge-like mantle rises and falls in plumes as it is heated from below and cooled from
above. The mantle can drag the overlying tectonic plates with it as it moves.

What lies beneath
GRACE cannot directly detect that movement since it is so slow. But scientists inferred the
gravitational contribution of convection by subtracting the post-glacier effect from the region's
overall gravity signal.

"It's a very good piece of evidence that allows us to look beneath the surface of the Earth,"
says team member James Davis of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, US. "It would be very hard for someone to say it's 100% post-
glacial rebound."

Even after the Earth's crust rebounds completely from the glacier melting, there may still be a
gravitational low over the area due to mantle convection. That would suggest that even parts
of a continent away from the tectonic plate boundaries are affected by mantle convection.

Climate change
Ultimately, scientists hope to use such data to learn how continents form and evolve over
time. "With this information, people could infer better whether the North America plate is
actually predominantly stable," says C K Shum, an expert on the Earth's gravity at Ohio State
University in Columbus, US, who was not a part of this study.

Using this same set of data, researchers have also found that there were two ice domes in the
ice sheet on either side of Hudson Bay, given the features in the gravity field that have been
left behind. The way the thickness of any ice cover changes at different periods could be used
by climate modellers to understand past climate change.

"Where the ice formed, and how thick it was, is a clue to temperature, precipitation, and other
weather/climate (for example, the jet stream) changes in the distant past," says team
member Jerry Mitrovica of the University of Toronto in Canada.

Journal reference: Science (vol 316, p 881)


A maelstrom is a very powerful whirlpool; a large, swirling body of water. A free vortex, it has
considerable downdraft. The power of tidal whirlpools tends to be exaggerated by laymen.
There are few stories of large ships ever being sucked into a maelstrom, although smaller craft
are in danger and tsunami or sinkhole-generated maelstroms may even threaten larger craft.
Tales like those by Paul the Deacon, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jules Verne are entirely fictional.

One of the earliest uses in English of the Scandinavian word (malstrm or malstrm) was by
Edgar Allan Poe in his story "A Descent into the Maelstrm" (1841). In turn, the Nordic word is
derived from the Dutch maelstrom, modern spelling maalstroom, from malen (to grind) and
stroom (stream), to form the meaning grinding current or literally "mill-stream", in the sense
of milling (grinding) grain.

Notable maelstroms

The maelstrom off Norway, as illustrated by Olaus Magnus on the Carta Marina, 1539.

The original Maelstrom (described by Poe and others) is the Moskstraumen, a powerful tidal
current in the Lofoten Islands off the Norwegian coast. The Maelstrom is formed by the
conjunction of the strong currents that cross the straits (Moskenstraumen) between the
islands and the great amplitude of the tides.

In Norwegian the most frequently used name is Moskstraumen or Moskenstraumen (current of
[island] Mosken).

The fictional depictions of the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne describe it as a
gigantic circular vortex that reaches the bottom of the ocean, when in fact it is a set of
currents and crosscurrents with a rate of 18 km/h.

The maelstrom of Saltstraumen is the world's strongest maelstrom and is located 30 km east
of the city of Bod, Norway. Its impressive strength is caused by the world's strongest tide
occurring in the same location. A narrow channel connects the outer Saltfjord with its
extension, the large Skjerstadfjord, causing a colossal tide which in turn produces the
Saltstraumen maelstrom.

The Corryvreckan is the third largest whirlpool in the world, and is on the northern side of the
Gulf of Corryvreckan, between the islands of Jura and Scarba off the coast of mainland
Scotland. Flood tides and inflow from the Firth of Lorne to the west can drive the waters of
Corryvreckan to waves of over 9 metres, and the roar of the resulting maelstrom can be heard
16 kilometres away.

A documentary team from Scottish independent producers Northlight Productions once threw a
mannequin into the Corryvreckan ("the Hag") with a life jacket and depth gauge. The
mannequin was swallowed and spat up far down current with a depth gauge reading of 262
metres with evidence of being dragged along the bottom for a great distance.

Other notable maelstroms and whirlpools

Old Sow whirlpool is located between Deer Island, New Brunswick, Canada, and Moose
Island, Eastport, Maine, USA.

Naruto whirlpool is located in the Naruto Strait near Awaji Island in Japan.

Skookumchuck Narrows is a tidal rapids that develops whirlpools, on the Sunshine Coast
(British Columbia), Canada.

French Pass (Te Aumiti) is a narrow and treacherous stretch of water that separates D'Urville
Island from the north end of the South Island of New Zealand.

Tsunami and Sinkhole-generated maelstroms and whirlpools

Tsunamis generated by large earthquakes have historically formed ephemeral whirlpools at
points along the area of wave impact, dependent upon submarine topography. Most notably,
the tsunami from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake created a maelstrom off Oarai, Ibaraki
Prefecture, which was videotaped during news coverage and has become a viral video.

Lake Peigneur is located in the U.S. State of Louisiana 1.2 miles (1.9 km) north of Delcambre
and 9.1 miles (14.6 km) west of New Iberia, near the northernmost tip of Vermilion Bay. On
November 20, 1980 a drilling disaster took place and the lake temporarily drained into a large
sinkhole. The resultant whirlpool sucked in the drilling platform, eleven barges, many trees
and 65 acres (260,000 m2) of the surrounding terrain.

Magnetic Places

A gravity hill, also known as a magnetic hill (and sometimes a mystery hill or a gravity
road), is a place where the layout of the surrounding land produces the optical illusion that a
very slight downhill slope appears to be an uphill slope. Thus, a car left out of gear will appear
to be rolling uphill due to gravity.


The slope of gravity hills is an optical illusion, although sites are often accompanied by claims
that magnetic or even supernatural forces are at work.

The most important factor contributing to the illusion is a completely or mostly obstructed
horizon; without a horizon, judging the slope of a surface is difficult as a reliable reference is
missing. Objects one would normally assume to be more-or-less perpendicular to the ground
(such as trees) may actually be leaning, offsetting the visual reference. The illusion is similar
to the well-known Ames room, in which balls can also appear to roll against gravity.

How It Works

Mystery Spots are cleverly engineered. To construct your own mystery spot, first build a little
room or cabin. My little sample below is a squarish room with a chimney.

Next, lift one side of the house until the room tilts about 25. Some say that the first Mystery
House slid down a hill in a rain storm and ended up at the perfect angle. Whereupon the
owners noticed strange things happening inside. Personally I think Americans are clever
enough to think up the idea with, or without a rain storm.

Important. Hide the fact that the little house is tilted. Place the room along a slope. Bury part
of the floor if necessary. Use walls or fences along the approach to cleverly disguise the
terrain; slope them the wrong way. The idea here is to distort the architecture, and add
landscaping to make it look straight and level to a visitor. Remove as many vertical references
as possible, and change the slant of the ceiling to make the room look level. Place purposely
distorted objects around to further enhance the effect of normalcy. Everything has to look as
normal as possible; as if the room weren't tilted. You are now ready to welcome visitors.

How People Stand at Impossible Angles

We can see what is actually happening from a vantage point outside of the cabin. From our
vantage point the people look like they are standing in a normal, upright position.

However, things look different to the people inside the room (right-hand cartoon). They
desperately cling to a false notion of normal 3D space, but are deceived by the environment.
To people in the room, everybody looks like they are standing at an impossible angle. They
see friends defy gravity and walk up walls. People lean effortlessly into space without falling.
The "alien vortex" seems to have a powerful influence.

How Water Flows Uphill

From our vantage point we see the water flowing normally down a slight incline and spilling
naturally from the spout.

Inside the room, things are getting stranger and stranger. To visitors it looks as if gravity is
leaking out of the room. They watch in amazement as water flows uphill and pours out of the
spout at an eerie, unnatural angle.

Lists of Hot Spots

Calico Ghost Town Mystery Shack, Yermo, CA
Confusion Hill Gravity House, Percy, CA
Confusion Hill, Ligonier, PA
Cosmos of the Black Hills, Rapid City, SD
Gravity Hill, Bedford Country, PA
Knott's Berry Farm Haunted Shack, Buena Park, CA
Mysterious Tuttle House, North Woodstock, NH
Mystery Hill, Blowing Rock, NC
Mystery Hill, Irish Hills, MI
Mystery Hill, Marblehead, OH
Mystery Hole, Ansted, WV
Mystery Shack, Maggie Valley, NC
Mystery Spot, St. Ignace, MI
Spook Hill, Lake Wales, FL
The Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz, CA
The Oregon Vortex House of Mystery, Gold Hill, OR
The Teton Mystery, Jackson, WY
The Wonder Spot, Lake Delton, WI
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, CA

Cosmos Mystery Area: Rapid City, South Dakota

Situated just six miles from the Mount Rushmore National Monument, the Cosmos Mystery
Area on Hwy. 16 features a house where no one appears to be able stand up straight. A ball
placed on a plank will appear to roll up it. "You can even stand on the wall!" says the
promotional literature.

Gravity Hill: Bedford County, Pennsylvania

It's a place where gravity goes haywire, says one article about this hill near New Paris, Pa. A
"GH" spray-painted on the road tells you when you've found the spot where you can stop your
car, shift it into neutral, then sit in amazement as it seems to slowly begin to roll uphill. If
you're still in doubt, you can do as other experimenters have done and pour water on the road
- and watch as it flows uphill.

Gravity Hill: Salt Lake City, Utah

This gravity hill is located a few blocks northwest of the Capitol building in Salt Lake City. On a
road that leads down into a canyon, supposedly, gravity works against known physics. If you
stop at the bottom of the hill here, they say, and put your car in neutral, the car will coast
back uphill out of the canyon. There's a legend behind this one, too. Someone named Elmo is
buried in the area, so the story goes, and his gravestone glows blue at midnight. It's the force
of this ghostly presence that warps gravity.

Gravity Hill: Franklin Lakes, New Jersey

This gravity hill on the Ewing Avenue exit of Rt. 208 South has one of those "ghost child"
stories attached to it. The reason cars appear to roll uphill in defiance of gravity is because the
ghost of a little girl pushes them that way. The little girl, the story goes, was killed by a
passing car when she dashed into the road to fetch a ball. It's either that or some kind of
anomalous magnetic field, they say, which also causes balls to roll up the hill instead of down.

Magnetic Hill: Ladakh, India

Mystery Hill: Marblehead, Ohio

"See Mystery Hill defy the laws of nature and gravity..." declares the promotional material for
this anomaly-plagued site in Ohio. Visitors to this place say that you can feel perfectly okay
standing in one spot, then just a few inches away feel totally strange. Here, too, water
seemingly flows uphill, a pendulum swings only to the south and people appear to change
height right before your eyes.
Mystery Hill: Blowing Rock, North Carolina

The Mystery House in this N.C. attraction is said to have a stronger-than-normal gravitational
pull to the north. A person can apparently stand at a 45-degree angle, they say, and balls can
be shown to roll up an incline. The site also features some other optical illusions and puzzles.
Mystery Spot: Santa Cruz, California

Discovered in the 1940s, this site on Branciforte Drive in Santa Cruz just might be the most
well-known "mystery spot" in the U.S. Tour guides walk visitors through the "Mystery Shack"
that stands on this spot and demonstrate the many weird effects that seem to take place
there. Balls roll uphill, brooms stand on end at odd angles, people's heights seem to change as
they walk about, among other weird effects of perspective and gravity. Even the trees in the
area do not stand straight. Some visitors actually feel faint within the shack.

Mystery Spot: St. Ignace, Michigan

Like the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot, this one in Michigan's upper peninsula also features an old
shack situated on a sharply sloped landscape. Balls and water appear to defy gravity by
moving uphill. People seem to be able to stand at impossible angles.
The Oregon Vortex: Gold Hill, Oregon

Some kind of magnetic vortex - a spherical field of force, half above the ground and half below
- is said to be responsible for the peculiar effects experienced at this site's House of Mystery.
Those who visit the spot, it is claimed, cannot stand erect anywhere within the vortex, but are
always inclined toward magnetic north. Distortions in perceived perspective are also affected,
giving the impression, in some spots, that as a person approaches you he or she becomes
shorter. There are other weird effects as well.

Spook Hill: Lake Wales, Florida

Located between Orlando and Tampa, this stretch of road off Hwy. 27 is said to have gravity-
defying effects on cars. The phenomenon on the sloping road is so well known that there is a
sign on the roadside explaining its legend:

"Many years ago, an Indian village on Lake Wales was plagued by raids of a huge gator. The
chief, a great warrior, killed the gator in a battle... The chief war buried on the north side.
Pioneer mail riders first discovered their horses laboring down hill, thus naming it 'Spook Hill.'
When the road was paved, cars coasted uphill. Is this the gator seeking revenge, or the chief
still trying to protect his land."

The story is local folklore, obviously, but drivers do attest that when they stop their cars at a
certain spot and shift their transmissions into neutral, the cars do seem to roll up the incline of
the road.

*Mirage, Fata Morgana

Morning Glory

The Morning Glory cloud is a rare meteorological phenomenon occasionally observed in
different locations around the world. The southern part of Northern Australia's Gulf of
Carpentaria is the only known location where it can be predicted and observed on a more or
less regular basis due to the configuration of land and sea in the area. The settlement of
Burketown attracts glider pilots intent on riding this phenomenon.

Burketown is an isolated town located on
the Gulf of Carpentaria in far north-western
Queensland, Australia. It is located on the
Albert River and Savannah Way in the area
known as the Gulf Savannah.

From the months of August to November, a
rare meteorological phenomenon known as
Morning Glory - long, tubular clouds,
some up to 1000 km in length - is often
observed in the skies above Burketown.
The Morning Glory has become something
of a mecca for soaring pilots who surf the
giant atmospheric wave in their gliders.
Gliding flights of over 500 kilometers have
become common.

Morning Glory clouds can be observed from Burketown from late September to early
November. There are generally only a handful of well-formed spectacular clouds during this
period at Burketown. During the 2012 season there were only four to be seen from there, but
quite a few ragged unspectacular cloud lines were seen. Often they start to break up before
arriving at Burketown or pass to the north and only stay well-formed over water. In an aircraft
there is a significantly better chance of sighting the cloud.

A Morning Glory cloud is a roll cloud that can be up to 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) long,1 to 2
kilometres (0.62 to 1.2 mi) high, often only 100 to 200 metres (330 to 660 ft) above the
ground and can move at speeds up to 60 kilometres (37 mi) per hour. Sometimes there is
only one cloud, sometimes there are up to eight consecutive roll clouds.

The Morning Glory is often accompanied by sudden wind squalls, intense low-level wind shear,
a rapid increase in the vertical displacement of air parcels, and a sharp pressure jump at the
surface. In the front of the cloud, there is strong vertical motion that transports air up through
the cloud and creates the rolling appearance, while the air in the middle and rear of the cloud
becomes turbulent and sinks.

The cloud can also be described as a solitary wave or a soliton or an undular bore, which is a
wave that has a single crest and moves without changing speed or shape.
History of exploration

Unusual cloud formations have been noticed here since ancient times. The local Garrawa
Aboriginal people called it kanglgi. Royal Australian Air Force pilots first reported this
phenomenon in 1942.

The Morning Glory cloud of the Gulf of Carpentaria has been studied by multiple teams of
scientists since the early 1970s. The first studies were published by Reg H.Clarke (University
of Melbourne). Multiple studies have followed since then, proposing diverse mathematical
models explaining the complex movements of air masses in region.

The Morning Glory cloud is not clearly understood because their rarity means they have little
significance in terms of rainfall or climate.

Regardless of the complexity behind the nature of this atmospheric phenomenon, some
conclusions have been made about its causes. Through research, one of the main causes of
most Morning Glory occurrences is the mesoscale circulations associated with sea breezes that
develop over the peninsula and the gulf. On the large scale, Morning Glories are usually
associated with frontal systems crossing central Australia and high pressure in northern
Australia. Locals have noted that the Morning Glory is likely to occur when the humidity in the
area is high, which provides moisture for the cloud to form, and when strong sea breezes have
blown the preceding day.

Scenario for formation

The following is a summary of the conditions that cause the Morning Glory cloud to form in the
Gulf of Carpentaria (after hypothesis of R.H.Clarke, as described in 1981). First, Cape York
which is the peninsula that lies to the east of the gulf, is large enough that sea breezes
develop on both sides. During the day, the breeze from the Coral Sea coast blows in from the
east and the breeze from the gulf blows in from the west. The two breezes meet in the middle
of the peninsula, forcing the air to rise there and form a line of clouds over the spine of the
peninsula. When night comes, the air cools and descends and at the same time a surface
inversion forms over the gulf (where air temperature increases with height). The densities in
this stable layer are different above and below the inversion. The air descending from the
peninsula to the east goes underneath the inversion layer and this generates a series of waves
or rolling cylinders which travel across the gulf. These cylinders of air roll along the underside
of the inversion layer, so that the air rises at the front of the wave and sinks at the rear. In
the early morning, the air is saturated enough so that the rising air in the front produces a
cloud, which forms the leading edge of the cylinder, and evaporates in the back, hence
forming the Morning Glory cloud. The cloud lasts until the surface inversion disappears with
the heating of the day.

This is one scenario that explains the formation of the Morning Glory cloud over the Gulf of
Carpentaria, but other explanations have also been proposed.

There are other ways in which Morning Glory clouds form, especially in rarer cases in other
parts of the world, but these are far less understood.

Local weather lore in the area suggests that when the fridges frost over and the caf tables'
corners curl upwards at the Burketown Pub, there is enough moisture in the air for the clouds
to form. Reportedly, all winds cease at ground level as the cloud passes over.

One vantage point to see Australia's Morning Glory is from Burketown in the remote Far North
Queensland around September and October. Towns in this part of the world are small and far
apart, and Burketown has an influx of glider and hang-glider pilots at this time of year.

Other reported occurrences

Although the Morning Glory clouds over the southern part of Carpentaria Gulf are the most
frequent and predictable, similar phenomena have occasionally been observed elsewhere, e.g.,
over central United States, the English Channel, Berlin, Germany, Eastern Russia, and other
maritime regions of Australia.

Morning Glory clouds have occasionally been reported in the Sea of Cortez off the
Mexican coast.
The phenomenon has also been observed from Sable Island, 180 km southeast of
Nova Scotia.
A Morning Glory also passed through Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in April 2009. In contrast
to the Gulf of Carpentaria where the Morning Glory is visible in the morning, those in
Nova Scotia have all occurred during the evening.
Rare examples have been observed via satellite observation over the Joseph
Bonaparte Gulf in the Eastern Kimberley region of Australia as well as over the Arabian
A Morning Glory cloud was observed in 2007 over the Campos dos Goytacazes bay in
the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In August 2011, it happened again over Peregrino Field in South Campos Basin in
The phenomenon was also recorded on Batroun's shore (Lebanon Middle East) in
September 2004.


Photoperiodism is the physiological reaction of organisms to the length of day or night. It
occurs in plants and animals. Photoperiodism can also be defined as the developmental
responses of plants to the relative lengths of the light and dark periods. Here it should be
emphasized that photoperiodic effects relate directly to the timing of both the light and dark

In plants

Many flowering plants (angiosperms) use a photoreceptor protein, such as phytochrome or
cryptochrome, to sense seasonal changes in night length, or photoperiod, which they take as
signals to flower. In a further subdivision, obligate photoperiodic plants absolutely require a
long or short enough night before flowering, whereas facultative photoperiodic plants are more
likely to flower under the appropriate light conditions, but will eventually flower regardless of
night length.

In 1920, W. W. Garner and H. A. Allard published their discoveries on photoperiodism and felt
it was the length of daylight that was critical, but it was later discovered that the length of the
night was the controlling factor. Photoperiodic flowering plants are classified as long-day
plants or short-day plants, even though night is the critical factor, because of the initial
misunderstanding about daylight being the controlling factor. Each plant has a different length
critical photoperiod, or critical night length.

Modern biologists believe that it is the coincidence of the active forms of phytochrome or
cryptochrome, created by light during the daytime, with the rhythms of the circadian clock
that allows plants to measure the length of the night. Other than flowering, photoperiodism in
plants includes the growth of stems or roots during certain seasons, or the loss of leaves.
Artificial lighting can be used to induce extra-long days.
Long-day plants

Long-day plants flower when the day length exceeds their critical photoperiod. These plants
typically flower in the northern hemisphere during late spring or early summer as days are
getting longer. In the northern hemisphere, the longest day of the year is on or about 21 June
(solstice). After that date, days grow shorter (i.e. nights grow longer) until 21 December
(solstice). This situation is reversed in the southern hemisphere (i.e. longest day is 21
December and shortest day is 21 June). In some parts of the world, however, "winter" or
"summer" might refer to rainy versus dry seasons, respectively, rather than the coolest or
warmest time of year.

Some long-day obligate plants are:

Carnation (Dianthus)
Henbane (Hyoscyamus)
Oat (Avena)
Ryegrass (Lolium)
Clover (Trifolium)
Bellflower (Campanula carpatica)

Some long-day facultative plants are:

Pea (Pisum sativum)
Barley (Hordeum vulgare)
Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Wheat (Triticum aestivum, spring wheat cultivars)
Turnip (Brassica rapa)
Arabidopsis thaliana (model organism)

Short-day plants

Short-day plants flower when the day lengths are less than their critical photoperiod. They
cannot flower under long days or if a pulse of artificial light is shone on the plant for several
minutes during the middle of the night; they require a consolidated period of darkness before
floral development can begin. Natural nighttime light, such as moonlight or lightning, is not of
sufficient brightness or duration to interrupt flowering.

In general, short-day (i.e. long-night) plants flower as days grow shorter (and nights grow
longer) after 21 June in the northern hemisphere, which is during summer or fall. The length
of the dark period required to induce flowering differs among species and varieties of a

Photoperiod affects flowering when the shoot is induced to produce floral buds instead of
leaves and lateral buds. Note that some species must pass

Some short-day facultative plants are:

Hemp (Cannabis)
Cotton (Gossypium)
Sugar cane

Day-neutral plants

Day-neutral plants, such as cucumbers, roses and tomatoes, do not initiate flowering based on
photoperiodism at all; they flower regardless of the night length. They may initiate flowering
after attaining a certain overall developmental stage or age, or in response to alternative
environmental stimuli, such as vernalisation (a period of low temperature), rather than in
response to photoperiod.

In animals

Daylength, and thus knowledge of the season of the year, is vital to many animals. A number
of biological and behavioural changes are dependent on this knowledge. Together with
temperature changes, photoperiod provokes changes in the colour of fur and feathers,
migration, entry into hibernation, sexual behaviour, and even the resizing of sexual organs.

Birds', such as the canary, singing frequency depends on the photoperiod. In the spring when
the photoperiod increases (more daylight), the male canary's testes grow. As the testes grow,
more androgens are secreted and song frequency increases. During autumn when the
photoperiod decreases (less daylight), the male canary's testes regress and androgen levels
dramatically drop resulting in decreased singing frequency. Not only is singing frequency
dependent on the photoperiod but also song repertoire. The long photoperiod of spring results
in a greater song repertoire. Autumn's shorter photoperiod results in a reduction in song
repertoire. These behavioral photoperiod changes in male canaries are caused by changes in
the song center of the brain. As the photoperiod increases so does the high vocal center (HVC)
and the robust nucleus of the archistriatum (RA). When the photoperiod decreases these areas
of the brain regress.

In mammals daylength is registered in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is informed
by retinal light-sensitive ganglion cells, which are not involved in vision. The information
travels through the retinohypothalamic tract (RHT). Some mammals are highly seasonal while
humans' seasonality is largely evolutionary baggage.


Double rainbow and supernumerary rainbows on the inside of the primary arc. The shadow of
the photographer's head on the bottom marks the centre of the rainbow circle (antisolar

A rainbow is an optical and meteorological phenomenon that is caused by reflection of light in
water droplets in the Earth's atmosphere, resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky.
It takes the form of a multicoloured arc.
Rainbows caused by sunlight always appear in the section of sky directly opposite the sun.

In a "primary rainbow", the arc shows red on the outer part and violet on the inner side. This
rainbow is caused by light being refracted while entering a droplet of water, then reflected
inside on the back of the droplet and refracted again when leaving it.

In a double rainbow, a second arc is seen outside the primary arc, and has the order of its
colours reversed, red facing toward the other one, in both rainbows. This second rainbow is
caused by light reflecting twice inside water droplets.


The rainbow is not located at a specific distance, but comes from any water droplets viewed
from a certain angle relative to the sun's rays. Thus, a rainbow is not an object, and cannot be
physically approached. Indeed, it is impossible for an observer to see a rainbow from water
droplets at any angle other than the customary one of 42 degrees from the direction opposite
the sun. Even if an observer sees another observer who seems "under" or "at the end of" a
rainbow, the second observer will see a different rainbowfurther offat the same angle as
seen by the first observer. A rainbow spans a continuous spectrum of colours. Any distinct
bands perceived are an artifact of human colour vision, and no banding of any type is seen in
a black-and-white photo of a rainbow, only a smooth gradation of intensity to a maximum,
then fading towards the other side. For colours seen by the human eye, the most commonly
cited and remembered sequence is Newton's sevenfold red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo
and violet.

Rainbows can be caused by many forms of airborne water. These include not only rain, but
also mist, spray, and airborne dew.

Rainbows can form in mist, such as that of a

Rainbow with a faint reflected rainbow in the

Rainbows may form in the spray created by
waves (called spray bows)

Rainbow after sunlight bursts through after an
intense shower in Maraetai, New Zealand


Rainbows can be observed whenever there are water drops in the air and sunlight shining
from behind at a low altitude angle. The most spectacular rainbow displays happen when half
the sky is still dark with raining clouds and the observer is at a spot with clear sky in the
direction of the sun. The result is a luminous rainbow that contrasts with the darkened

The rainbow effect is also commonly seen near waterfalls or fountains. In addition, the effect
can be artificially created by dispersing water droplets into the air during a sunny day. Rarely,
a moonbow, lunar rainbow or nighttime rainbow, can be seen on strongly moonlit nights. As
human visual perception for colour is poor in low light, moonbows are often perceived to be
white. It is difficult to photograph the complete semicircle of a rainbow in one frame, as this
would require an angle of view of 84. For a 35 mm camera, a lens with a focal length of 19
mm or less wide-angle lens would be required. Now that powerful software for stitching
several images into a panorama is available, images of the entire arc and even secondary arcs
can be created fairly easily from a series of overlapping frames. From an aeroplane, one has
the opportunity to see the whole circle of the rainbow, with the plane's shadow in the centre.
This phenomenon can be confused with the glory, but a glory is usually much smaller,
covering only 520.

At good visibility conditions (for example, a dark cloud behind the rainbow), the second arc
can be seen, with inverse order of colours. At the background of the blue sky, the second arc
is barely visible.

As is evident by the photos on this page, the sky inside of a primary rainbow is brighter than
the sky outside of the bow. This is because each raindrop is a sphere and it scatters light in a
many-layered stack of coloured discs over an entire circular disc in the sky, but only the edge
of the disc, which is coloured, is what is called a rainbow. Alistair Fraser, coauthor of The
Rainbow Bridge: Rainbows in Art, Myth, and Science, explains: "Each color has a slightly
different sized disc and since they overlap except for the edge, the overlapping colors give
white, which brightens the sky on the inside of the circle. On the edge, however, the different-
sized colored discs don't overlap and display their respective colors a rainbow arc."

Number of colours in spectrum or rainbow

A spectrum obtained using a glass prism and a point source is a continuum of wavelengths
without bands. The number of colours that the human eye is able to distinguish in a spectrum
is in the order of 100. Accordingly, the Munsell colour system (a 20th-century system for
numerically describing colours, based on equal steps for human visual perception)
distinguishes 100 hues. The apparent discreteness of main colours is an artefact of human
perception and the exact number of main colours is a somewhat arbitrary choice.

Newton originally (1672) divided the spectrum into five main colours; red, yellow, green, blue
and violet. Later he included orange and indigo, giving seven main colours by analogy to the
number of notes in a musical scale.

Rainbow (middle: real, bottom: computed) compared to
true spectrum (top): unsaturated colours and different
colour profile

The colour pattern of a rainbow is different from a
spectrum, and the colours are less saturated. There is
spectral smearing in a rainbow owing to the fact that for
any particular wavelength, there is a distribution of exit
angles, rather than a single unvarying angle. In addition,
a rainbow is a blurred version of the bow obtained from a point source, because the disk
diameter of the sun (0.5) cannot be neglected compared to the width of a rainbow (2). The
number of colour bands of a rainbow may therefore be different from the number of bands in
a spectrum, especially if the droplets are either large or small. Therefore, the number of
colours of a rainbow is variable. If, however, the word rainbow is used inaccurately to mean
spectrum, it is the number of main colours in the spectrum.


Light rays enter a raindrop from one
direction (typically a straight line from the
Sun), reflect off the back of the raindrop,
and fan out as they leave the raindrop. The
light leaving the rainbow is spread over a
wide angle, with a maximum intensity at the
angles 40.8942.

White light separates into different colours
on entering the raindrop due to dispersion,
causing red light to be refracted less than
blue light.

The light is first refracted entering the surface of the raindrop, reflected off the back of the
drop, and again refracted as it leaves the drop. The overall effect is that the incoming light is
reflected back over a wide range of angles, with the most intense light at an angle of 42. The
angle is independent of the size of the drop, but does depend on its refractive index. Seawater
has a higher refractive index than rain water, so the radius of a "rainbow" in sea spray is
smaller than a true rainbow. This is visible to the naked eye by a misalignment of these bows.

The amount by which light is refracted depends upon its wavelength, and hence its colour.
This effect is called dispersion. Blue light (shorter wavelength) is refracted at a greater angle
than red light, but due to the reflection of light rays from the back of the droplet, the blue light
emerges from the droplet at a smaller angle to the original incident white light ray than the
red light. Due to this angle, blue is seen on the inside of the arc of the primary rainbow, and
red on the outside.

The light at the back of the raindrop does not undergo total internal reflection, and some light
does emerge from the back. However, light coming out the back of the raindrop does not
create a rainbow between the observer and the Sun because spectra emitted from the back of
the raindrop do not have a maximum of intensity, as the other visible rainbows do, and thus
the colours blend together rather than forming a rainbow.

A rainbow does not actually exist at a particular location in the sky. Its apparent position
depends on the observer's location and the position of the sun. All raindrops refract and reflect
the sunlight in the same way, but only the light from some raindrops reaches the observer's
eye. This light is what constitutes the rainbow for that observer. The bow is centred on the
shadow of the observer's head, or more exactly at the antisolar point (which is below the
horizon during the daytime), and forms a circle at an angle of 4042 to the line between the
observer's head and its shadow. As a result, if the Sun is higher than 42, then the rainbow is
below the horizon and usually cannot be seen as there are not usually sufficient raindrops
between the horizon (that is: eye height) and the ground, to contribute. Exceptions occur
when the observer is high above the ground, for example in an aeroplane (see above), on top
of a mountain, or above a waterfall.
Multiple rainbows
"Double rainbow" redirects here. For other uses, see Double Rainbow.

Secondary rainbows are caused by a double reflection of sunlight inside the raindrops, and
appear at an angle of 5053. As a result of the second reflection, the colours of a secondary
rainbow are inverted compared to the primary bow, with blue on the outside and red on the
inside. The secondary rainbow is fainter than the primary because more light escapes from
two reflections compared to one and because the rainbow itself is spread over a greater area
of the sky. The dark area of unlit sky lying between the primary and secondary bows is called
Alexander's band, after Alexander of Aphrodisias who first described it.

A double rainbow features reversed colours in the outer (secondary) bow, with the dark
Alexander's band between the bows.
Twinned rainbow

A double rainbow features reversed colours in the outer
(secondary) bow, with the dark Alexander's band
between the bows.

Unlike a double rainbow which consists of two separate
and concentric rainbow arcs, the very rare twinned
rainbow appears as two rainbow arcs that split from a
single base. The colours in the second bow, rather than
reversing as in a double rainbow, appear in the same
order as the primary rainbow. It is sometimes even
observed in combination with a double rainbow. The
cause of a twinned rainbow is the combination of
different sizes of water drops falling from the sky. Due
to air resistance, raindrops flatten as they fall, and
flattening is more prominent in larger water drops.
When two rain showers with different-sized raindrops
combine, they each produce slightly different rainbows
which may combine and form a twinned rainbow.

Until recently, scientists could only make an educated guess as to why a twinned rainbow does
appear, even though extremely rarely. It was thought that most probably non-spherical
raindrops produced one or both bows, with surface tension forces keeping small raindrops
spherical, while large drops were flattened by air resistance; or that they might even oscillate
between flattened and elongated spheroids. However, in 2012 a new technique was used to
simulate rainbows, enabling the accurate simulation of non-spherical particles. Besides
twinned rainbows, this technique can also be used to simulate many different rainbow
phenomena including double rainbows and supernumerary bows.
Tertiary and quaternary rainbows

In addition to the primary and secondary rainbows which can be seen in a direction opposite
to the sun, it is also possible (but very rare) to see two faint rainbows in the direction of the
sun. These are the tertiary and quaternary rainbows, formed by light that has reflected three
or four times within the rain drops, at about 40 from the sun (for tertiary rainbows) and 45
(quaternary). It is difficult to see these types of rainbows with the naked eye because of the
sun's glare, but they have been photographed; definitive observations of these phenomena
were not published until 2011.
Higher-order rainbows

Higher-order rainbows were described by Felix Billet (18081882) who depicted angular
positions up to the 19th-order rainbow, a pattern he called a "rose of rainbows". In the
laboratory, it is possible to observe higher-order rainbows by using extremely bright and well
collimated light produced by lasers. Up to the 200th-order rainbow was reported by Ng et al.
in 1998 using a similar method but an argon ion laser beam.
Supernumerary rainbow
Contrast-enhanced photograph of a supernumerary
rainbow, with additional green and violet arcs inside the
primary bow.

A supernumerary rainbowalso known as a stacker
rainbowis an infrequent phenomenon, consisting of
several faint rainbows on the inner side of the primary
rainbow, and very rarely also outside the secondary
rainbow. Supernumerary rainbows are slightly detached
and have pastel colour bands that do not fit the usual

It is not possible to explain their existence using
classical geometric optics. The alternating faint rainbows are caused by interference between
rays of light following slightly different paths with slightly varying lengths within the raindrops.
Some rays are in phase, reinforcing each other through constructive interference, creating a
bright band; others are out of phase by up to half a wavelength, cancelling each other out
through destructive interference, and creating a gap. Given the different angles of refraction
for rays of different colours, the patterns of interference are slightly different for rays of
different colours, so each bright band is differentiated in colour, creating a miniature rainbow.
Supernumerary rainbows are clearest when raindrops are small and of similar size. The very
existence of supernumerary rainbows was historically a first indication of the wave nature of
light, and the first explanation was provided by Thomas Young in 1804.

Reflected rainbow, reflection rainbow
Reflection rainbow and normal rainbow, at sunset

When a rainbow appears above a body of water, two
complementary mirror bows may be seen below and above the
horizon, originating from different light paths. Their names are
slightly different.

A reflected rainbow may appear in the water surface below the
horizon (see photo above). The sunlight is first deflected by the
raindrops, and then reflected off the body of water, before
reaching the observer. The reflected rainbow is frequently
visible, at least partially, even in small puddles.

A reflection rainbow may be produced where sunlight reflects off
a body of water before reaching the raindrops (see diagram and
photo at the right), if the water body is large, quiet over its
entire surface, and close to the rain curtain. The reflection
rainbow appears above the horizon. It intersects the normal
rainbow at the horizon, and its arc reaches higher in the sky, with its centre as high above the
horizon as the normal rainbow's centre is below it. Due to the combination of requirements, a
reflection rainbow is rarely visible.

Six (or even eight) bows may be distinguished if the reflection of the reflection bow, and the
secondary bow with its reflections happen to appear simultaneously.

Full circle rainbow

A rainbow is a circle of angular radius 42 degrees,
centered on the antisolar point (the point marked by the
shadow of your head) but we don't see a full circle
because the earth gets in the way. The lower the sun is
to the horizon, the more of the circle we seeright at
sunset, a full semicircle of the rainbow with the top of
the arch 42 degrees above the horizon is visible. The
higher the sun is in the sky, the smaller is the arch of
the rainbow above the horizon. To see a full circle
rainbow one need be able to look down on it with the
sun behind you, only possible from an aircraft (or
skydiving as in the photo on this page). Looking down
at a garden hose spray one can almost see a full circle
rainbow, but the person holding the hose will shadow
the bottom part.

Circular rainbow seen while skydiving over Rochelle,

Monochrome rainbow

Unenhanced photo of a red (monochrome) rainbow.

Occasionally a shower may happen at sunrise or sunset,
where the shorter wavelengths like blue and green have
been scattered and essentially removed from the
spectrum. Further scattering may occur due to the rain,
and the result can be the rare and dramatic
monochrome rainbow.

Rainbows under moonlight

Spray moonbow at the Lower Yosemite Fall

Moonbows are often perceived as white and may be
thought of as monochrome. The full spectrum is present
but our eyes are not normally sensitive enough to see
the colours. So these are also classified (on the basis of
how we see them) into seven coloured rainbow, three
coloured rainbow and monochrome rainbow. Long
exposure photographs will sometimes show the colour
in this type of rainbow.


Fogbow and glory

Fogbows form in the same way as rainbows, but they
are formed by much smaller cloud and fog droplets
which diffract light extensively. They are almost white
with faint reds on the outside and blues inside. The
colours are dim because the bow in each colour is very
broad and the colours overlap. Fogbows are commonly
seen over water when air in contact with the cooler water is chilled, but they can be found
anywhere if the fog is thin enough for the sun to shine through and the sun is fairly bright.
They are very largealmost as big as a rainbow and much broader. They sometimes appear
with a glory at the bow's centre.

Circumhorizontal arc

The circumhorizontal arc is sometimes referred to by the misnomer "fire rainbow". As it
originates in ice crystals, it is not a rainbow but a halo.

Rainbows on Titan

It has been suggested that rainbows might exist on Saturn's moon Titan, as it has a wet
surface and humid clouds. The radius of a Titan rainbow would be about 49 instead of 42,
because the fluid in that cold environment is methane instead of water. A visitor might need
infrared goggles to see the rainbow, as Titan's atmosphere is more transparent for those

Ringing rocks

Ringing Rocks are rocks that have the property of
resonating like a bell when struck, such as the Musical
Stones of Skiddaw in the English Lake District as well as
the stones in Ringing Rocks Park, in Upper Black Eddy,
Bucks County, Pennsylvania USA and the Bell Rock
Range of Western Australia. Ringing rocks are also
known as sonorous rocks or lithophonic rocks, as used
in idiophonic musical instruments called lithophones.

Ringing Rocks Sites in Pennsylvania

Ringing Rocks County Park

Ringing Rocks County Park is a Bucks County park in Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania at
40.56316N 75.12689W. Originally, the land was acquired by the Penn family from the
Lenape (Delaware Nation) through the infamous 1737 Walking Purchase. It is not clear who
made the original land warrant for the area now covered by the Ringing Rocks County Park.
On the 1850 property map of Bucks County the owner appears to be T. (Theodore?)
Lippincott, however there is no warrantee listing under that name. The earliest published
description of the Bridgeton boulder field is found in Davis 1876. The seven acre boulder field
was purchased in 1895 by Abel B. Haring, president of the Union National Bank in Frenchtown
NJ. Apparently Haring wished to protect the ringing rocks from development, and even refused
an offer from a manufacturer of Belgian blocks for the right to quarry the stones. (Humphreys
1905, Sigafoos 1935). On August 22, 1918, the land which contains the Bridgeton boulder
field was donated by Haring to the Bucks County Historical Society. The grant included 7 acres
8.08 perches of land. A right-of-way was granted by John O. McEntee for access to the park
(Fackenthal 1919). Later the land was transferred to Bucks County and operated as a county
park. Additional land acquisitions have increased the size of the park to 128 acres.

Ringing Hill Park

Ringing Hill Park is located three miles northeast of Pottstown, Pennsylvania in Montgomery
County. The boulder field was first identified in 1742 when a road was cut between Pottstown
and New Gosenhoppen (Pennsburg). In 1894 the Ringing Rocks Electric Railway Company was
incorporated to purchase the remote Ringing Hill for an amusement park and provide trolley
service (1894 to 1932). At the time it was created, the park was approximately two miles out
of town. The park was purchased in 1932 by Walter J. Wolf and operated as an amusement
park and skating rink. On September 1, 1957, the park was sold to the Ringing Hill Fire
Company. (

Stony Garden

The Stony Garden, largest of the three public ringing rock boulder fields, is located on the
northwest slope of Haycock Mountain in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, near Bucksville. The
garden is actually a series of disconnected boulder fields which extend for nearly half a mile,
and were formed where the olivine diabase unit crops out along the base of the mountain. The
site is undeveloped, and is accessable by a hiking trail which leads from a PA Game Lands
parking area on Stony Garden Road. It was purchased by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
around 1920 as part of PA Game Lands Tract #157 which covers Haycock Mountain.

Early Investigations

Several early scientists became interested in the ringing rocks, however none were able to
formulate a credible theory on the ringing ability of the rocks or the formation of the boulder

The eminent Dr. Edgar T. Wherry (1885-1982), mineralogist and botanist, became interested
in the ringing rocks while teaching at Lehigh University. Dr. Wherry theorized that the ringing
was due to the texture of the diabase rocks and that they were supported by other rocks. He
did identify the boulder fields as a type of felsenmeer (Wherry 1912).

At the 13th Annual meeting of the BHS in June 1900 Charles Laubach (1835-1904), a noted
local geologist and naturalist, described the geology of the diabase 'trap' sills with reference to
the Bridgeton, Stony Garden and other sites (Doylestown Intelligencer 1900).

Dr. Benjamin Franklin Fackenthal (1851-1941), local industrialist and trustee of Franklin &
Marshall College, became interested with the ringing rocks. Although not a professional
geologist, Dr. Fackenthal made extensive observations on all of the boulder fields (Fackenthal

In 1965, geologist Richard Faas of Lafayette College took a few of the rocks back to his lab for
testing. He found that when the rocks were struck they created a series of tones at
frequencies lower than the human ear can hear. An audible sound is only produced because
these tones interact with each other. Although Faas's experiments explained the nature of the
tones, they did not identify the specific physical mechanism in the rock which made them.

Diabase Ringing Rock Boulder Fields in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

In southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey there is a series of boulder fields which
contain boulders that ring when struck by a hard object. Although various rock types are
known to develop the ringing ability, these boulder fields fall into a specific category of being
composed of olivine diabase. The boulder fields formed from a group of diabase sills located in
the geologic Newark Basin. The sills were formed when mafic magma from the upper mantle
injected into the sedimentary basin 200 million years ago (Early Jurassic Period). When the
diabase sills were still molten crystals of olivine and pyroxene settled to the bottom of the sill
and formed a thin cumulate unit. By the Pleistocene Epoch (most recent Ice Age - 2,588,000
to 11,700 years BP) the sills had been exposed to the surface by crustal uplift and erosion.
During the Pleistocene outcrops of the olivine diabase were not buried by the glacial sheets,
however they were subjected to severe freezing, or periglacial, conditions. The periglacial
environment caused the outcrops to be broken into extensive boulder fields.

Ringing Rocks Pluton, Jefferson County, Montana

The Ringing Rocks Pluton is located in the mountains of southwest Montana between Butte
and Whitehall, and is notable for a large tor of boulders which ring when struck with a hard
object. The pluton is the deep-seated vent for a volcano which erupted 76 million years ago.
The peculiar aspect of the pluton is that it is an excellent example of magma mixing in a
conduit, specifically between olivine basalt and granitic magmas. Mixing of the magmas
created a curious hybrid rock type which crystallized against the outer wall of conduit. After
millions of years of uplift and erosion the thin walls of hybrid rock were exposed to the
surface. During the Pleistocene Epoch periglacial freezing shattered the high standing walls to
form a substantial tor.

Ringing Properties of the Individual Boulders

Although the rocks are from different geologic settings, the Montana ringing rocks share
significant characteristics with the Pennsylvania diabase ringing rocks. These characteristics
include being composed of igneous mafic rock types with high percentages of olivine and
pyroxene phenocrysts, having the individual boulders isolated from severe weathering by the
formation of well-drained boulder fields, and having similar sounds and surface weathering.

The iron content of the olivine pyroxene monzonite (as FeO) is 7% of the whole rock (Butler
1983, Johannesmeyer 1999). As in the Pennsylvania diabase ringing rocks, this point suggests
that iron content is not a primary factor in the ringing ability.

Despite the broad public interest in the ringing ability of the ringing rocks there has not been
any actual scientific studies to identify the source of the phenomenon.


Sailing Stones

Sailing stones, sliding rocks, and moving rocks
all refer to a geological phenomenon where
rocks move in long tracks along a smooth valley
floor without human or animal intervention.
They have been recorded and studied in a
number of places around Racetrack Playa,
Death Valley, where the number and length of
travel grooves are notable. The force behind
their movement is not confirmed and is the
subject of research.

The stones move only every two or three years
and most tracks develop over three or four
years. Stones with rough bottoms leave straight striated tracks while those with smooth
bottoms wander. Stones sometimes turn over, exposing another edge to the ground and
leaving a different track in the stone's wake.

Trails differ in both direction and length. Rocks that start next to each other may travel
parallel for a time, before one abruptly changes direction to the left, right, or even back the
direction it came from. Trail length also varies two similarly sized and shaped rocks may
travel uniformly, then one could move ahead or stop in its track.


Tracks are sometimes non-linear.

Most of the so-called sailing stones originate from an
850 ft-high (260 m) hillside made of dark dolomite on
the south end of the playa, but some are intrusive
igneous rock from adjacent slopes (most of those being
tan-colored feldspar-rich syenite). Tracks are often tens
to hundreds of feet long, about 3 to 12 inches (8 to 30
cm) wide, and typically much less than an inch (2.54
cm) deep.

A balance of specific conditions are thought to be needed for stones to move:

a saturated yet non-flooded surface,
a thin layer of clay,
very strong gusts as initiating force, and
strong sustained wind to keep stones going

Research history

Two rocks in Racetrack Playa.

Geologists Jim McAllister and Allen Agnew mapped the
bedrock of the area in 1948 and made note of the
tracks. Naturalists from the National Park Service later
wrote more detailed descriptions and Life magazine
featured a set of photographs from the Racetrack.
Speculation about how the stones move started at this
time. Various and sometimes idiosyncratic possible
explanations have been put forward over the years that
have ranged from the supernatural to the very
complex. Most hypotheses favored by interested
geologists posit that strong winds when the mud is wet are at least in part responsible. Some
stones weigh as much as a human, which some researchers, such as geologist George M.
Stanley, who published a paper on the topic in 1955; feel is too heavy for the area's wind to
move. They maintain that ice sheets around the stones either help to catch the wind or move
in ice floes.

Bob Sharp and Dwight Carey started a Racetrack stone movement monitoring program in May
1972. Eventually thirty stones with fresh tracks were labeled and stakes were used to mark
their locations. Each stone was given a name and changes in the stones' position were
recorded over a seven year period. Sharp and Carey also tested the ice floe hypothesis by
corralling selected stones. A corral 5.5 feet (1.7 m) in diameter was made around 3 inches
(7.6 cm) wide, 1 pound (0.45 kg) track-making stone with seven rebar segments placed 25 to
30 inches (63 to 76 cm) apart. If a sheet of ice around the stones either increased wind-
catching surface area or helped move the stones by dragging them along in ice floes, then the
rebar should at least slow down and deflect the movement. Neither appeared to occur; the
stone barely missed a rebar as it moved 28 feet (8.5 m) to the northwest out of the corral in
the first winter. Two heavier stones were placed in the corral at the same time; one moved
five years later in the same direction as the first but its companion did not move during the
study period. This indicated that if ice played a part in stone movement, then ice collars
around stones must be small.

Ten of the initial twenty-five stones moved in the first winter with Mary Ann (stone A) covering
the longest distance at 212 feet (65 m). Two of the next six monitored winters also saw
multiple stones move. No stones were confirmed to have moved in the summer and some
winters none or only a few stones moved. In the end all but two of the thirty monitored stones
moved during the seven year study. At 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) in diameter, Nancy (stone H) was
the smallest monitored stone. It also moved the longest cumulative distance, 860 feet (260
m), and the greatest single winter movement, 659 feet (201 m). The largest stone to move
was 80 pounds (36 kg).

Karen (stone J) is a 29 by 19 by 20 inches (74 by 48 by 51 cm) block of dolomite and weighs
an estimated 700 pounds (318 kg). Karen did not move during the monitoring period. The
stone may have created its 570 foot long straight and old track from momentum gained from
its initial fall onto the wet playa. However, Karen disappeared sometime before May 1994,
possibly during the unusually wet winter of 1992 to 1993. Removal by artificial means is
considered unlikely due to the lack of associated damage to the playa that a truck and winch
would have caused. A possible sighting of Karen was made in 1994 a half mile 800 m from the
playa. Karen was rediscovered by San Jose geologist Paula Messina in 1996.

Professor John Reid led six research students from Hampshire College and the University of
Massachusetts in a follow-up study in 1995. They found highly congruent trails from stones
that moved in the late 1980s and during the winter of 1992-1993. At least some stones were
proved beyond a reasonable doubt to have been moved in ice floes that may be up to half a
mile 800 m wide. Physical evidence included swaths of lineated areas that could only have
been created by moving thin sheets of ice. So wind alone and wind in conjunction with ice
floes are thought to be motive forces.

Another sailing stone in Racetrack Playa.

Physicists studying the phenomenon in 1995 found that
winds blowing on playa surfaces can be compressed
and intensified. They also found that boundary layers
(the region just above ground where winds are slower
due to ground drag) on these surfaces can be as low as
2 inches (5.1 cm). This means that stones just a few
inches high feel the full force of ambient winds and their
gusts, which can reach 90 miles per hour (140 km/h) in
winter storms. Such gusts are thought to be the
initiating force while momentum and sustained winds
keep the stones moving, possibly as fast as a moderate
run (only half the force required to start a stone sailing
is needed to keep it in motion).

Wind and ice both are the favoured hypothesis for these
mysterious sliding rocks. Noted in Don J. Easterbrook's
"Surface Processes and Landforms", he mentioned that
because of the lack of parallel paths between some rock paths, this could be caused by the
breaking up of ice resulting in alternate routes. Even though the ice breaks up into smaller
blocks, it is still necessary for the rocks to slide.

A study published in 2011 postulated that small rafts of ice form around the rocks and when
the local water level rises, the rocks are buoyantly floated off the soft bed thus reducing the
reaction and friction forces at the bed. Since this effect depends on reducing friction, and not
by increasing the wind drag, these ice cakes need not have a particularly large surface area if
the ice is adequately thick, as the minimal friction allows the rocks to be moved by arbitrarily
light winds.

Swarm, Infestation, and Migration

Redback Spiders,23599,23588114-2,00.html

A hospital in Queensland Australia had to be shut down temporarily as an infestation of
poisonous redback spiders broke out. The worry was that they could fall from the ceiling and
land on patients beds.

Pest controller had to be called in to eradicate the problem, fumigator Bruce Dekker had this
to say What were concerned about is that we may get redbacks dropping through some of
the air-conditioning ducting or through . . . exhaust fans, he said. Were concerned that
some of these openings are above the patients beds.


Massive jellyfish swarms altering marine food webs

An increase in the size and frequency of jellyfish swarms in coastal waters around the world
during the last few decades means that jellies' impact on marine food webs is likely to
increase in the future. All these stinging, pulsating, gelatinous creatures are a nuisance to
bathers and boaters, and a minus for world fisheries. From large hordes of potentially deadly,
peanut-sized jellyfish in Australia to swarms of hundreds of millions of refrigerator-sized
jellyfish in the Sea of Japan, suspicion is growing that population explosions of jellyfish are
being generated by human activities.

But a new study by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) shows that
these jellyfish swarms do much more than annoy tourists. They drastically alter marine food
webs by shunting food energy toward bacteria.

The article presenting the results of the study, led by recent VIMS graduate Rob Condon,
appear in this week's issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This intriguing finding demonstrates that changes at the top of the food web can affect even
the most fundamental ecosystem processes," says David Garrison, director of NSF's Biological
Oceanography Program.

Condon conducted his field studies by sampling jellyfish blooms in the York River, a tributary
of lower Chesapeake Bay.

The team's experimental work took place in laboratories at VIMS, and in Canada and France.

The researchers tracked the flow of food energy in the lab by measuring the amount of carbon
taken up and released by jellyfish and bacteria within closed containers during "incubation"
experiments of varying length. Carbon is the "currency" of energy exchange in living systems.

"Jellyfish are voracious predators," says Condon. "They affect food webs by capturing plankton
that would otherwise be eaten by fish, and converting that food energy into gelatinous
biomass. This restricts the transfer of energy up the food chain, because jellyfish are not
readily consumed by other predators."

Jellyfish also shunt food energy away from fish and shellfish that humans like to eat through
their effects on the bacterial community.

"Marine bacteria typically play a key role in recycling carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and other
by-products of organic decay back into the food web," says Condon. "But in our study, we
found that when bacteria consumed dissolved organic matter from jellyfish they shunted it
toward respiration rather than growth."

The upshot of this "jelly carbon shunt" is that bacteria in jelly-laden waters end up converting
carbon back to carbon dioxide, rather than using it to grow larger or reproduce.

This means the carbon is lost as a direct source of organic energy for transfer up the food
web. The researchers think the shift toward bacterial respiration happens because jellyfish
produce organic matter that is extra-rich in carbon. They do so through excretion and the
sloughing of mucus.

"The mucus is the slime you feel when you pick up a jelly," says VIMS scientist Deborah

The jellyfish in Condon's experiments released large quantities of carbon-rich organic matter--
with 25- to 30-times more carbon than nitrogen. That compares to a ratio of 6 parts carbon to
1 part nitrogen for the organic matter found dissolved in typical marine waters.

"The bacteria metabolized this carbon-rich material two to six times faster than they did with
dissolved organic matter from water without jellyfish," says Condon. "This rapid metabolism
shunted carbon toward respiration rather than production, reducing their potential to
assimilate this material by 10 to 15 percent."

Steinberg says that bacterial metabolism of dissolved organic matter from jellyfish is like
"drinking Gatorade," while metabolism of dissolved organic matter from phytoplankton and
other sources is like "eating a hamburger. It just doesn't provide an efficient food source for
marine bacteria."

A final significant finding from the team's research is that an influx of dissolved organic matter
from jellyfish blooms changes the make-up of the local microbial community.

"Dissolved organic matter [DOM] from jellyfish favored the rapid growth and dominance of
specific bacterial groups that were otherwise rare in the York River," says Condon. "This
implies that jelly-DOM was channeled through a small component of the local microbial
assemblage and thus induced large changes in community composition." Overall, according to
Condon, the team's findings "suggest major shifts in microbial structure and function
associated with jellyfish blooms, and a large detour of energy toward bacteria and away from
higher trophic levels."

He adds that a host of factors, including climate change, over-harvesting of fish, fertilizer
runoff and habitat modifications could help to fuel jellyfish blooms into the future.

"Indeed," he says, "we've seen this already in Chesapeake Bay. If these swarms continue to
emerge, we could see a substantial biogeochemical impact on our ecosystems. Simply
knowing how carbon is processed by phytoplankton, zooplankton, microbes or other trophic
levels in space and time can lead to estimates of how much carbon energy is available for fish
to consume," he says. "The more we know, the better we can manage ecosystem resources."

"Immortal" Jellyfish Swarm World's Oceans
Ker Than, National Geographic News
January 29, 2009

A potentially "immortal" jellyfish species that can age
backwardthe Benjamin Button of the deepis silently invading
the world's oceans, swarm by swarm, a recent study says.
Like the Brad Pitt movie character, the immortal jellyfish
transforms from an adult back into a baby, but with an added
bonus: Unlike Benjamin Button, the jellyfish can do it over and
over againthough apparently only as an emergency measure.

About as wide as a human pinky nail when fully grown, the immortal jellyfish (scientific name:
Turritopsis dohrnii) was discovered in the Mediterranean Sea in 1883. But its unique ability
was not discovered until the 1990s.

How the Jellyfish Becomes "Immortal"
Turritopsis typically reproduces the old-fashioned way, by the meeting of free-floating sperm
and eggs. And most of the time they die the old-fashioned way too.

But when starvation, physical damage, or other crises arise, "instead of sure death,
[Turritopsis] transforms all of its existing cells into a younger state," said study author Maria
Pia Miglietta, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University.

The jellyfish turns itself into a bloblike cyst, which then develops into a polyp colony,
essentially the first stage in jellyfish life.

The jellyfish's cells are often completely transformed in the process. Muscle cells can become
nerve cells or even sperm or eggs.

Through asexual reproduction, the resulting polyp colony can spawn hundreds of genetically
identical jellyfishnear perfect copies of the original adult.

This unique approach to hardship may be helping Turritopsis swarms spread throughout the
world's oceans, she added.


In 125 BC, they destroyed the grain crop in northern Africa; 80,000 people died of starvation.

In AD 591, a plague of locusts in Italy caused the deaths of more than a million people and

In 1613, disaster struck the French region of La Camargue when locusts ate enough grass in a
single day to feed 4,000 cattle for a year.

The Nile Valley suffered in 1889 when locusts so thoroughly destroyed the crops that even the
mice starved in their wake.

Between 1949 and 1963, locust swarms in Africa caused an estimated $100 million worth of
damage annually.

In 1986-87, Africa suffred the worst plague of locusts in 50 years. Five different species of
locust and grasshopper were breeding, hatching, feeding, and swarming at the same time.

In 1958, the Ethiopian cereal crop was laid waste, leaving a million people without food.

The largest swarm ever recorded, more than 300 billion locusts in South Africa in 1784,
covered an estimated 2,000 square miles. This seething mass was capable of devouring
600,000 tons of food a day. Fortunately, the locusts were blown to sea and destroyed by a
storm. The bodies washed up by the tide formed a bank along the shore 4 feet high and 50
miles long.

*Monarch Butterfly


"Rods" are one of the most fascinating and intriguing Earth
mysteries of recent times. Discovered accidentally by
filmmaker Jose Escamilla in March of 1994, what he calls
"rods" are strange flying things that can only be seen on
slowed-down film and videotape, and sometimes captured in
still photographs. Apparently, these things - whatever they
are - move too quickly to be seen with the naked eye.
Escamilla first noticed them in film footage he had taken in
Midway, New Mexico, and he (along with others) have since
filmed and taped them in several other locations.

According to Escamilla's own definition, rods are "cigar or
cylindrical shaped objects that travel at high velocities barely
visible with the naked eye. They appear to be alive as they
move through the air like fish swim in the sea. They appear
to have fins or appendages along the torso and the torsos
bend as they travel." Escamilla has several film clips and stills
of the creatures on his website:

The rods measure from just a few inches to several feet in length and there seem to be a few
varieties with different kinds of appendages. They have been spotted and recorded in Mexico,
Arizona, Indiana, California, South Dakota, Connecticut and even Sweden. Some have even
been seen underwater. Are they some unknown species of animal? If so, why has no one ever
seen these creatures at rest?

See also Skyfish

*Springs under the Sea
*Bouncing stones
*Colossi of Memnon
*The Hum
*Geomagnetic storm

Geomagnetic reversal

A geomagnetic reversal is a change in the Earth's
magnetic field such that the positions of magnetic north
and magnetic south are interchanged. The Earth's field has
alternated between periods of normal polarity, in which
the direction of the field was the same as the present
direction, and reverse polarity, in which the field was the
opposite. These periods are called chrons. The time spans
of chrons are randomly distributed with most being
between 0.1 and 1 million years with an average of
450,000 years. Most reversals are estimated to take
between 1,000 and 10,000 years. The latest one, the
BrunhesMatuyama reversal, occurred 780,000 years ago.
However,a study published in 2012 by a group from the
German Research Center for Geosciences suggests that a
brief complete reversal occurred only 41,000 years ago
during the last glacial period. The reversal lasted only
about 440 years with the actual change of polarity lasting
around 250 years. During this change the strength of the
magnetic field dropped to 5% of its present strength. Brief
disruptions that do not result in reversal are called
geomagnetic excursions.

Geomagnetic polarity during the late Cenozoic Era. Dark
areas denote periods where the polarity matches today's
polarity, light areas denote periods where that polarity is

In the early 20th century geologists first noticed that some
volcanic rocks were magnetized opposite to the direction
of the local Earth's field. The first estimate of the timing of
magnetic reversals was made in the 1920s by Motonori
Matuyama, who observed that rocks with reversed fields
were all of early Pleistocene age or older. At the time, the
Earth's polarity was poorly understood and the possibility
of reversal aroused little interest.

Three decades later, when Earth's magnetic field was better understood, theories were
advanced suggesting that the Earth's field might have reversed in the remote past. Most
paleomagnetic research in the late 1950s included an examination of the wandering of the
poles and continental drift. Although it was discovered that some rocks would reverse their
magnetic field while cooling, it became apparent that most magnetized volcanic rocks
preserved traces of the Earth's magnetic field at the time the rocks had cooled. In the absence
of reliable methods for obtaining absolute ages for rocks, it was thought that reversals
occurred approximately every million years.

The next major advance in understanding reversals came when techniques for radiometric
dating were developed in the 1950s. Allan Cox and Richard Doell, at the United States
Geological Survey, wanted to know whether reversals occurred at regular intervals, and
invited the geochronologist Brent Dalrymple to join their group. They produced the first
magnetic-polarity time scale in 1959. As they accumulated data, they continued to refine this
scale in competition with Don Tarling and Ian McDougall at the Australian National University.
A group led by Neil Opdyke at the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory showed that the
same pattern of reversals was recorded in sediments from deep-sea cores.

During the 1950s and 1960s information about variations in the Earth's magnetic field was
gathered largely by means of research vessels. But the complex routes of ocean cruises
rendered the association of navigational data with magnetometer readings difficult. Only when
data were plotted on a map did it become apparent that remarkably regular and continuous
magnetic stripes appeared on the ocean floors.

In 1963 Frederick Vine and Drummond Matthews provided a simple explanation by combining
the seafloor spreading theory of Harry Hess with the known time scale of reversals: if new sea
floor is magnetized in the direction of the field, then it will change its polarity when the field
reverses. Thus, sea floor spreading from a central ridge will produce magnetic stripes parallel
to the ridge. Canadian L. W. Morley independently proposed a similar explanation in January
1963, but his work was rejected by the scientific journals Nature and Journal of Geophysical
Research, and remained unpublished until 1967, when it appeared in the literary magazine
Saturday Review. The MorleyVineMatthews hypothesis was the first key scientific test of the
seafloor spreading theory of continental drift.

Beginning in 1966, LamontDoherty Geological Observatory scientists found that the magnetic
profiles across the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge were symmetrical and matched the pattern in the
north Atlantic's Reykjanes ridges. The same magnetic anomalies were found over most of the
world's oceans, which permitted estimates for when most of the oceanic crust had developed.
Observing past fields

Geomagnetic polarity since the middle Jurassic. Dark areas denote periods where the polarity
matches today's polarity, light areas denote periods where that polarity is reversed.

Past field reversals can be and have been recorded in the "frozen" ferromagnetic (or more
accurately, ferrimagnetic) minerals of consolidated sedimentary deposits or cooled volcanic
flows on land.

The past record of geomagnetic reversals was first noticed by observing the magnetic stripe
"anomalies" on the ocean floor. Lawrence W. Morley, Frederick John Vine and Drummond
Hoyle Matthews made the connection to seafloor spreading in the Morley-Vine-Matthews
hypothesis which soon led to the development of the theory of plate tectonics. The relatively
constant rate at which the sea floor spreads results in substrate "stripes" from which past
magnetic field polarity can be inferred from data gathered from towing a magnetometer along
the sea floor.

Because no existing unsubducted sea floor (or sea floor thrust onto continental plates) is more
than about 180 million years (Ma) old, other methods are necessary for detecting older
reversals. Most sedimentary rocks incorporate tiny amounts of iron rich minerals, whose
orientation is influenced by the ambient magnetic field at the time at which they formed.
These rocks can preserve a record of the field if it is not later erased by chemical, physical or
biological change.

Because the magnetic field is global, similar patterns of magnetic variations at different sites
may be used to correlate age in different locations. In the past four decades much
paleomagnetic data about seafloor ages (up to ~250 Ma) has been collected and is useful in
estimating the age of geologic sections. Not an independent dating method, it depends on
"absolute" age dating methods like radioisotopic systems to derive numeric ages. It has
become especially useful to metamorphic and igneous geologists where index fossils are
seldom available.

Geomagnetic polarity time scale

Through analysis of seafloor magnetic anomalies and dating of reversal sequences on land,
paleomagnetists have been developing a Geomagnetic Polarity Time Scale (GPTS). The current
time scale contains 184 polarity intervals in the last 83 million years.
Changing frequency over time

The rate of reversals in the Earth's magnetic field has varied widely over time. 72 million years
ago (Ma), the field reversed 5 times in a million years. In a 4-million-year period centered on
54 Ma, there were 10 reversals; at around 42 Ma, 17 reversals took place in the span of 3
million years. In a period of 3 million years centering on 24 Ma, 13 reversals occurred. No
fewer than 51 reversals occurred in a 12-million-year period, centering on 15 million years
ago. Two reversals occurred during a span of 50,000 years. These eras of frequent reversals
have been counterbalanced by a few "superchrons" long periods when no reversals took


A superchron is a polarity interval lasting at least 10 million years. There are two well-
established superchrons, the Cretaceous Normal and the Kiaman. A third candidate, the
Moyero, is more controversial. The Jurassic Quiet Zone in ocean magnetic anomalies was once
thought to represent a superchron, but is now attributed to other causes.

The Cretaceous Normal (also called the Cretaceous Superchron or C34) lasted for almost 40
million years, from about 120 to 83 million years ago, including stages of the Cretaceous
period from the Aptian through the Santonian. The frequency of magnetic reversals steadily
decreased prior to the period, reaching its low point (no reversals) during the period. Between
the Cretaceous Normal and the present, the frequency has generally increased slowly.

The Kiaman Reverse Superchron lasted from approximately the late Carboniferous to the late
Permian, or for more than 50 million years, from around 312 to 262 million years ago. The
magnetic field had reversed polarity. The name "Kiaman" derives from the Australian village of
Kiama, where some of the first geological evidence of the superchron was found in 1925.

The Ordovician is suspected to host another superchron, called the Moyero Reverse
Superchron, lasting more than 20 million years (485 to 463 million years ago) . But until now
this possible superchron has only been found in the Moyero river section north of the polar
circle in Siberia. Moreover, the best data from elsewhere in the world do not show evidence for
this superchron.

Certain regions of ocean floor, older than 160 Ma, have low-amplitude magnetic anomalies
that are hard to interpret. They are found off the east coast of North America, the northwest
coast of Africa, and the western Pacific. They were once thought to represent a superchron
called the Jurassic Quiet Zone, but magnetic anomalies are found on land during this period.
The geomagnetic field is known to have low intensity between about 130 Ma and 170 Ma, and
these sections of ocean floor are especially deep, so the signal is attenuated between the floor
and the surface.

Statistical properties of reversals

Several studies have analyzed the statistical properties of reversals in the hope of learning
something about their underlying mechanism. The discriminating power of statistical tests is
limited by the small number of polarity intervals. Nevertheless, some general features are well
established. In particular, the pattern of reversals is random. There is no correlation between
the lengths of polarity intervals. There is no preference for either normal or reversed polarity,
and no statistical difference between the distributions of these polarities. This lack of bias is
also a robust prediction of dynamo theory. Finally, as mentioned above, the rate of reversals
changes over time.

The randomness of the reversals is inconsistent with periodicity, but several authors have
claimed to find periodicity. However, these results are probably artifacts of an analysis using
sliding windows to determine reversal rates.

Most statistical models of reversals have analyzed them in terms of a Poisson process or other
kinds of renewal process. A Poisson process would have, on average, a constant reversal rate,
so it is common to use a non-stationary Poisson process. However, compared to a Poisson
process, there is a reduced probability of reversal for tens of thousands of years after a
reversal. This could be due to an inhibition in the underlying mechanism, or it could just mean
that some shorter polarity intervals have been missed. A random reversal pattern with
inhibition can be represented by a gamma process. In 2006, a team of physicists at the
University of Calabria found that the reversals also conform to a Lvy distribution, which
describes stochastic processes with long-ranging correlations between events in time. The
data are also consistent with a deterministic, but chaotic, process.

Character of transitions

Most estimates for the duration of a polarity transition are between 1,000 and 10,000 years.
However, studies of lava flows on Steens Mountain, Oregon, indicate that the magnetic field
could have shifted at a rate of up to 6 degrees per day about 15 million years ago. This was
initially met with skepticism from paleomagnetists. Even if changes occur that quickly in the
core, the mantle, which is a semiconductor, is thought to act as a low-pass filter, removing
variations with periods less than a few months. A variety of possible rock magnetic
mechanisms were proposed that would lead to a false signal. However, paleomagnetic studies
of other sections from the same region (the Oregon Plateau flood basalts) give consistent
results. It appears that the reversed-to-normal polarity transition that marks the end of Chron
C5Cr (16.7 million years ago) contains a series of reversals and excursions. In addition,
geologists Scott Bogue of Occidental College and Jonathan Glen of the US Geological Survey,
sampling lava flows in Battle Mountain, Nevada, found evidence for a brief, several year long
interval during a reversal when the field direction changed by over 50. The reversal was
dated to approximately 15 million years ago.
Magnetic field

The magnetic field will not vanish completely, but many poles might form chaotically in
different places during reversal, until it stabilizes again.


NASA computer simulation using the model of Glatzmaier and Roberts. The tubes represent
magnetic field lines, blue when the field points towards the center and yellow when away. The
rotation axis of the Earth is centered and vertical. The dense clusters of lines are within the
Earth's core.

The magnetic field of the Earth, and of other planets that have magnetic fields, are generated
by dynamo action in which convection of molten iron in the planetary core generates electric
currents which in turn give rise to magnetic fields. In simulations of planetary dynamos,
reversals often emerge spontaneously from the underlying dynamics. For example, Gary
Glatzmaier and collaborator Paul Roberts of UCLA ran a numerical model of the coupling
between electromagnetism and fluid dynamics in the Earth's interior. Their simulation
reproduced key features of the magnetic field over more than 40,000 years of simulated time
and the computer-generated field reversed itself. Global field reversals at irregular intervals
have also been observed in the laboratory liquid metal experiment VKS2.

In some simulations, this leads to an instability in which the magnetic field spontaneously flips
over into the opposite orientation. This scenario is supported by observations of the solar
magnetic field, which undergoes spontaneous reversals every 912 years. However, with the
sun it is observed that the solar magnetic intensity greatly increases during a reversal,
whereas reversals on Earth seem to occur during periods of low Earth field strength.

External triggers

Some scientists, such as Richard A. Muller, believe that geomagnetic reversals are not
spontaneous processes but rather are triggered by external events that directly disrupt the
flow in the Earth's core. Proposals include impact events or internal events such as the arrival
of continental slabs carried down into the mantle by the action of plate tectonics at subduction
zones or the initiation of new mantle plumes from the core-mantle boundary. Supporters of
this theory hold that any of these events could lead to a large scale disruption of the dynamo,
effectively turning off the geomagnetic field. Because the magnetic field is stable in either the
present North-South orientation or a reversed orientation, they propose that when the field
recovers from such a disruption it spontaneously chooses one state or the other, such that half
the recoveries become reversals. However, the proposed mechanism does not appear to work
in a quantitative model, and the evidence from stratigraphy for a correlation between
reversals and impact events is weak. Most strikingly, there is no evidence for a reversal
connected with the impact event that caused the CretaceousPaleogene extinction event.

Effects on biosphere and human society

Not long after the first geomagnetic polarity time scales were produced, scientists began
exploring the possibility that reversals could be linked to extinctions. Most such proposals rest
on the assumption that the Earth's magnetic field would be much weaker during reversals.
Possibly the first such hypothesis was that high energy particles trapped in the Van Allen
radiation belt could be liberated and bombard the Earth. Detailed calculations confirm that, if
the Earth's dipole field disappeared entirely (leaving the quadrupole and higher components),
most of the atmosphere would become accessible to high energy particles, but would act as a
barrier to them, and cosmic ray collisions would produce secondary radiation of beryllium-10
or chlorine-36. An increase of beryllium 10 was noted in a 2012 German study showing a peak
of beryllium-10 in Greenland ice cores during a brief complete reversal 41,000 years ago
which led to the magnetic field strength dropping to an estimated 5% of normal during the
reversal. There is evidence that this occurs both during secular variation and during reversals.

Another hypothesis by McCormac and Evans assumes that the Earth's field would disappear
entirely during reversals. They argue that the atmosphere of Mars may have been eroded
away by the solar wind because it had no magnetic field to protect it. They predict that ions
would be stripped away from Earth's atmosphere above 100 km. However, the evidence from
paleointensity measurements is that the magnetic field does not disappear. Based on
paleointensity data for the last 800,000 years,, the magnetopause is still estimated to be at
about 3 Earth radii during the Brunhes-Matuyama reversal. Even if the magnetic field
disappeared, the solar wind may induce a sufficient magnetic field in the Earth's ionosphere to
shield the surface from energetic particles.

Hypotheses have also been advanced linking reversals to mass extinctions. Many such
arguments were based on an apparent periodicity in the rate of reversals; more careful
analyses show that the reversal record is not periodic. It may be, however, that the ends of
superchrons have caused vigorous convection leading to widespread volcanism, and that the
subsequent airborne ash caused extinctions.

Tests of correlations between extinctions and reversals are difficult for a number of reasons.
Larger animals are too scarce in the fossil record for good statistics, so paleontologists have
analyzed microfossil extinctions. Even microfossil data can be unreliable if there are hiatuses
in the fossil record. It can appear that the extinction occurs at the end of a polarity interval
when the rest of that polarity interval was simply eroded away. Statistical analysis shows no
evidence for a correlation between reversals and extinctions.


Singing sand

Singing sand, whistling sand or barking sand is
sand that produces sound. The sound emission may be
caused by wind passing over dunes or by walking on the

Singing sand dune in Altyn-Emel National Park, Almaty
Province, Kazakhstan

Certain conditions have to come together to create singing sand:

The sand grains have to be round and between 0.1 and 0.5 mm in diameter.
The sand has to contain silica.
The sand needs to be at a certain humidity.

The most common frequency emitted seems to be close to 450 Hz.

Sand blowing off a crest in the Kelso Dunes
of the Mojave Desert, California
Sand dunes on the edge of Dunhuang

There are various theories about the singing sand mechanism. It has been proposed that the
sound frequency is controlled by the shear rate. Others have suggested that the frequency of
vibration is related to the thickness of the dry surface layer of sand. The sound waves bounce
back and forth between the surface of the dune and the surface of the moist layer, creating a
resonance that increases the sound's volume. The noise may be generated by friction between
the grains or by the compression of air between them.

Other sounds that can be emitted by sand have been described as "roaring" or "booming".

The particular note produced by the dune, between 60 and 105 hertz, is controlled by the rate
of collision in the shear band separating the avalanche from the static part of the dune. For
spontaneous avalanches, the frequency is controlled by gravity and by the size of the sand

In dunes

Singing sand dunes, an example of the phenomenon of singing sand, produce a sound
described as roaring, booming, squeaking, or the "Song of Dunes". This is a natural sound
phenomenon of up to 105 decibels, lasting as long as several minutes, that occurs in about 35
desert locations around the world. The sound is similar to a loud, low-pitch, rumble, and it
emanates from the crescent-shaped dunes, or barchans. The sound emission accompanies a
slumping or avalanching movement of the sand, usually triggered by wind passing over the
dune or by someone walking near the crest.

Examples of singing sand dunes include California's Kelso Dunes and Eureka Dunes; sugar
sand beaches and Warren Dunes in southwestern Michigan; Sand Mountain in Nevada; the
Booming Dunes in the Namib Desert, Africa; Porth Oer (also known as Whistling Sands)
near Aberdaron in Wales; Indiana Dunes in Indiana; Barking Sands in Hawaii; Mingsha
Shan in Dunhuang, China; Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts; near
the Al Udeid Air Base west of Doha, in Qatar; and Gebel Naqous, near el-Tor, South Sinai,
On the beach

On some beaches around the world, dry sand will make a singing, squeaking, whistling, or
barking sound if a person scuffs or shuffles their feet with sufficient force. The phenomenon is
not completely understood scientifically, but it has been found that quartz sand will do this if
the grains are very well-rounded and highly spherical. It is believed by some that the sand
grains must be of similar size, so the sand must be well sorted by the actions of wind and
waves, and that the grains should be close to spherical and have dust-, pollution-, and
organic-matter-free surfaces. The "singing" sound is then believed to be produced by shear as
each layer of sand grains slides over the layer beneath it. The similarity in size, the uniformity,
and the cleanness mean that grains move up and down in unison over the layer of grains
below them. Even small amounts of pollution on the sand grains reduces the friction enough to
silence the sand.

Others believe that the sound is produced by the friction of grain against grain that have been
coated with dried salt, in a way that is analogous to the way that the rosin on the bow
produces sounds from a violin string. It has also been speculated that thin layers of gas
trapped and released between the grains act as "percussive cushions" capable of vibration,
and so produce the tones heard.

Not all sands sing, whistle or bark alike. The sounds heard have a wide frequency range that
can be different for each patch of sand. Fine sands, where individual grains are barely visible
to the naked eye, produce only a poor, weak sounding bark. Medium-sized grains can emit a
range of sounds, from a faint squeak or a high-pitched sound, to the best and loudest barks
when scuffed enthusiastically.

Water also influences the effect. Wet sands are usually silent because the grains stick together
instead of sliding past each other, but small amounts of water can actually raise the pitch of
the sounds produced. The most common part of the beach on which to hear singing sand is
the dry upper beach above the normal high tide line, but singing has been reported on the
lower beach near the low tide line as well.

Singing sand has been reported on 33 beaches in the British Isles, including in the north of
Wales and on the little island of Eigg in the Scottish Hebrides. It has also been reported at a
number of beaches along North America's Atlantic coast. Singing sands can be found at
Souris, on the eastern tip of Prince Edward Island, at the Singing Sands beach in Basin Head
Provincial Park; in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, as well as in the fresh waters of
Lake Superior and Lake Michigan and in other places.


The Sarisarinama Sinkhole

A sinkhole, also known as a sink-hole, sink, swallow hole, shakehole, swallet or doline,
is a natural depression or hole in the Earth's surface which may have various causes. Some
are caused by karst processesfor example, the chemical dissolution of carbonate rocks or
suffosion processes in sandstone. Others are formed as a result of the collapse of old mine
workings close to the surface.

Sinkholes may vary in size from 1 to 600 m (3.3 to 2,000 ft) both in diameter and depth, and
vary in form from soil-lined bowls to bedrock-edged chasms. Sinkholes may be formed
gradually or suddenly, and are found worldwide. The different terms for sinkholes are often
used interchangeably.


Sinkholes near the Dead Sea, formed when underground salt is dissolved by freshwater
intrusion, due to continuing sea level drop.
Natural processes

Sinkholes near the Dead Sea, formed when
underground salt is dissolved by freshwater intrusion,
due to continuing sea level drop.

Sinkholes may capture surface drainage from running or
standing water, but may also form in high and dry
places in certain locations.

The formation of sinkholes involves natural processes of
erosion or gradual removal of slightly soluble bedrock
(such as limestone) by percolating water, the collapse of
a cave roof, or a lowering of the water table. Sinkholes
often form through the process of suffosion. Thus, for example, groundwater may dissolve the
carbonate cement holding the sandstone particles together and then carry away the lax
particles, gradually forming a void.

Occasionally a sinkhole may exhibit a visible opening into a cave below. In the case of
exceptionally large sinkholes, such as the Miny sinkhole in Papua New Guinea or Cedar Sink
at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, an underground stream or river may be visible
across its bottom flowing from one side to the other.

Sinkholes are common where the rock below the land surface is limestone or other carbonate
rock, salt beds, or other rocks that can naturally be dissolved by circulating ground water. As
the rock dissolves, spaces and caverns develop underground. These sinkholes can be
dramatic, because the surface land usually stays intact until there is not enough support.
Then, a sudden collapse of the land surface can occur.
Artificial processes

Sinkhole formed by rainwater leaking through pavement
and carrying soil into a ruptured sewer pipe.

Sinkholes also form from human activity, such as the
rare but still occasional collapse of abandoned mines
and salt cavern storage in salt domes in places like
Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. More commonly,
sinkholes occur in urban areas due to water main breaks
or sewer collapses when old pipes give way. They can
also occur from the overpumping and extraction of
groundwater and subsurface fluids.

Sinkholes can also form when natural water-drainage patterns are changed and new water-
diversion systems are developed. Some sinkholes form when the land surface is changed, such
as when industrial and runoff-storage ponds are created; the substantial weight of the new
material can trigger an underground collapse of supporting material, thus causing a sinkhole.


Sinkholes are frequently linked with karst landscapes. In such regions, there may be hundreds
or even thousands of sinkholes in a small area so that the surface as seen from the air looks
pock-marked, and there are no surface streams because all drainage occurs subsurface.
Examples of karst landscapes dotted with numerous enormous sinkholes are Khammouan
Mountains (Laos) and Mamo Plateau (Papua New Guinea). The largest known sinkholes formed
in sandstone are Sima Humboldt and Sima Martel in Venezuela.

The most impressive sinkholes form in thick layers of homogenous limestone. Their formation
is facilitated by high groundwater flow, often caused by high rainfall; such rainfall causes
formation of the giant sinkholes in Nakana Mountains, on the New Britain island in Papua New
Guinea. On the contact of limestone and insoluble rock below it, powerful underground rivers
may form, creating large underground voids.

In such conditions the largest known sinkholes of the world have formed, like the 662-metre
(2,172 ft) deep Xiaozhai Tiankeng (Chongqing, China), giant stanos in Quertaro and San
Luis Potos states in Mexico and others.

Unusual processes have formed the enormous sinkholes of Sistema Zacatn in Tamaulipas
(Mexico), where more than 20 sinkholes and other karst formations have been shaped by
volcanically heated, acidic groundwater. This has produced not only the formation of the
deepest water-filled sinkhole in the worldZacatnbut also unique processes of travertine
sedimentation in upper parts of sinkholes, leading to sealing of these sinkholes with travertine

The state of Florida in the United States is known for having frequent sinkhole collapses,
especially in the central part of the state. The Murge area in southern Italy also has numerous
sinkholes. Sinkholes can be formed in retention ponds from large amounts of rain
Human uses

Sinkholes have been used for centuries as disposal sites for various forms of waste. A
consequence of this is the pollution of groundwater resources, with serious health implications
in such areas. The Maya civilization sometimes used sinkholes in the Yucatn Peninsula
(known as cenotes) as places to deposit precious items and human sacrifices.

When sinkholes are very deep or connected to caves, they may offer challenges for
experienced cavers or, when water-filled, divers. Some of the most spectacular are the
Zacatn cenote in Mexico (the world's deepest water-filled sinkhole), the Boesmansgat
sinkhole in South Africa, Sarisariama tepuy in Venezuela, and in the town of Mount Gambier,
South Australia. Sinkholes that form in coral reefs and islands that collapse to enormous
depths are known as blue holes, and often become popular diving spots.

Local names of sinkholes

Large and visually unusual sinkholes have been well-known to local people since ancient
times. Nowadays sinkholes are grouped and named in site-specific or generic names. Some
examples of such names are listed below.

Black holes This term refers to a group of unique, round, water-filled pits in the
Bahamas. These formations seem to be dissolved in carbonate mud from above, by
the sea water. The dark color of the water is caused by a layer of phototropic
microorganisms concentrated in a dense, purple colored layer at 15 to 20 m (49 to 66
ft) depth; this layer "swallows" the light. Metabolism in the layer of microorganisms
causes heating of the water, the only known case in the natural world where
microorganisms create significant thermal effects. Most impressive is the Black Hole of
Blue holes This name was initially given to the deep underwater sinkholes of the
Bahamas but is often used for any deep water-filled pits formed in carbonate rocks.
The name originates from the deep blue color of water in these sinkholes, which in
turn is created by the high lucidity of water and the great depth of sinkholes; only the
deep blue color of the visible spectrum can penetrate such depth and return back after
Cenotes This refers to the characteristic water-filled sinkholes in the Yucatn
Peninsula, Belize and some other regions. Many cenotes have formed in limestone
deposited in shallow seas created by the Chicxulub meteorite's impact.
Stanos This name is given to several giant pits in several states of Mexico.
Tiankengs These are extremely large sinkholes, typically deeper and wider than
250 m (820 ft), with mostly vertical walls, most often created by the collapse of
underground caverns. The term means sky hole in Chinese; many of this largest type
of sinkhole are located in China.
Tomo This term is used in New Zealand karst country to describe pot holes.
Piping pseudokarst

What has been called a "sinkhole" by the popular press formed suddenly in Guatemala in May
2010. Torrential rains from Tropical Storm Agatha and a bad drainage system were blamed for
its creation. It swallowed a three story building and a house; it measured approximately 20 m
(66 ft) wide and 100 m (330 ft) deep. A similar hole had formed nearby in February 2007.

This large vertical hole is not a true sinkhole, as it did not form via the dissolution of
limestone, dolomite, marble, or any other water-soluble rock. Guatemala City is not underlain
by any carbonate rock; instead, thick deposits of volcanic ash, unwelded ash flow tuffs, and
other pyroclastic debris underlie all of Guatemala City. The dissolution of rock did not form the
large vertical holes that swallowed up parts of Guatemala City in 2007 and 2010.

The Guatemala City holes are instead an example of "piping pseudokarst", created by the
collapse of large cavities that had developed in the weak, crumbly Quaternary volcanic
deposits underlying the city. Although weak and crumbly, these volcanic deposits have enough
cohesion to allow them to stand in vertical faces and to develop large subterranean voids
within them. A process called "soil piping" first created large underground voids, as water from
leaking water mains flowed through these volcanic deposits and mechanically washed fine
volcanic materials out of them, then progressively eroded and removed coarser materials.
Eventually, these underground voids became large enough that their roofs collapsed to create
large holes.

Notable sinkholes

Some of the largest and most impressive sinkholes in the world are:

In Africa and the Middle East

Dead Sea Hole The biggest hole near Ein Gedi, Israel, 5 m (16 ft) deep.

Bahmah sinkhole (Bimmah sinkhole) Wadi
Shab and Wadi Tiwi, Oman, approximately 30 m
(98 ft) deep.

Blue Hole Dahab, Egypt. A round sinkhole or blue hole, 130 m (430 ft) deep.
Includes an extraordinary archway leading out to the Red Sea at 60 m (200 ft),
renowned for freediving and scuba attempts, the latter often fatal.

Boesmansgat South African freshwater sinkhole, approximately 290 m (950 ft)

Lake Kashiba Zambia. About 3.5 hectares (8.6 acres) in area and about 100 m
(330 ft) deep.

Teiq sinkhole Oman. One of the largest sinkholes in the world by volume:
90,000,000 m3 (3.2109 cu ft). Several perennial wadis fall with spectacular
waterfalls into this 250 m (820 ft) deep sinkhole.

In Asia

Dashiwei Tiankeng Guangxi, China. 613 m (2,011 ft) deep, with vertical walls,
bottom contains an isolated patch of forest with rare species.

Xiaozhai Tiankeng Chongqing Municipality, China. Double nested sinkhole with
vertical walls, 662 m (2,172 ft) deep.

In Europe

Red Lake Croatia. Approximately 530 m (1,740 ft) deep pit with nearly vertical
walls, contains approximately 280290 m (920950 ft) deep lake.

Vouliagmeni Greece. The sinkhole of Vouliagmeni is known as "The Devil Well",
because it is considered extremely dangerous. Four scuba divers are known to have
died in it. Maximum depth of 35.2 m (115 ft) and horizontal penetration of 150 m
(490 ft).

Berezniki Russia. Unstoppable serial technogenic sinkholes over flooded potash
mines and under town buildings, roads, railways.

In the Caribbean

Dean's Blue Hole Bahamas. Deepest known sinkhole under the sea, depth 203 m
(666 ft). Popular location for world championships of free diving.

In Central America

Great Blue Hole Belize. Spectacular, round
sinkhole, 124 m (407 ft) deep. Unusual features
are tilted stalactites in great depth, which mark
the former orientation of limestone layers when
this sinkhole was above sea level.

In North America

Bayou Corne Assumption Parish, Louisiana. 15 acres in area and 152 ft (46 m)

Cave of Swallows San Luis Potos, Mexico. 372 m (1,220 ft) deep, round sinkhole
with overhanging walls.

Gypsum Sinkhole Utah, USA, in Capitol Reef National Park. Nearly 15 m (49 ft) in
diameter and approximately 60 m (200 ft) deep.

Daisetta Sinkholes Daisetta, Texas. Several sinkholes have formed, the most
recent in 2008 with a maximum diameter of 620 ft (190 m) and maximum depth of
150 ft (46 m).

Kingsley Lake Florida, USA. 8.1 square kilometres (2,000 acres) in area, 27 m (89
ft) deep and almost perfectly round.

Lake Peigneur New Iberia, Louisiana. Original depth 1,500 ft (460 m), currently
142 ft (43 m) at Diamond Crystal Salt Mine collapse.

Sima de las Cotorras Chiapas, Mexico. 160 m (520 ft) across, 140 m (460 ft)
deep, with thousands of green parakeets and ancient rock paintings.

Stano de la Lucha Chiapas, Mexico. Bigger than Sima de las Cotorras and with
lush vegetation on the floor. It can be reached through a cave.

Stano del Barro Quertaro, Mexico. 410 m (1,350 ft) deep, with nearly vertical

Zacatn Tamaulipas, Mexico. Deepest water-filled sinkhole in the world, 339 m
(1,112 ft) deep. Floating travertine islands.

In Oceania

Harwood Hole Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand, 183 m (600 ft) deep.

Miny sinkhole East New Britain, Papua New Guinea. 510 m (1,670 ft) deep, with
vertical walls, crossed by a powerful stream.

In South America

Sima Humboldt Venezuela. Largest sinkhole in sandstone, 314 m (1,030 ft) deep,
with vertical walls. Unique, isolated forest on bottom.

2013 Illinois, USA
7 terrifying sinkhole disasters
By Lauren Hansen | March 13, 2013

A golfer who fell into an 18-foot hole in the Earth is only the latest victim of these seemingly
spontaneous natural depressions.

Sinkholes appear to be frighteningly instantaneous one moment you're on the 14th hole at
a golf course in Waterloo, Ill., and the next moment you're 18 feet below the ground. But
technically, sinkholes develop over time in subterranean areas that can't drain properly. A
buildup of water slowly dissolves rock, creating caverns that eventually break the surface,
sometimes in a horrifically dramatic way. Luckily, the golfer in this case, Mark Mihal, survived
his surprising plummet, and friends managed to hoist him to safety with a rope within 20
minutes. But other people, residences, and major city thoroughfares haven't been so lucky.

*2012-08 Taiwan sinkhole, man dead
*2012-08 Idaho sinkhole, car swallowed, 32yr-old Sonia Lopez
*2011-07 Utah sinkhole, car swallowed, 15yr-old girl dead
*2013 Guangzhou, China sinkhole, building complex swallowed

Qattara Depression
The World's Biggest Sinkholes
Randy Astaiza Oct. 20, 2012, 11:01 AM

The Qattara Depression in Egypt: Located west of Cairo, this massive dent is 440 feet below
sea level at its lowest point, with a length of 186 miles and a width of 95 miles.

Texas Devils Sinkhole
The World's Biggest Sinkholes
Randy Astaiza Oct. 20, 2012, 11:01 AM

Texas Devils Sinkhole: Now home to millions of bats this cavernous sinkhole has a 40 by 60
foot opening, and is 400 feet deep.

Sarisarinama Sinkholes
The World's Biggest Sinkholes
Randy Astaiza Oct. 20, 2012, 11:01 AM

The Sarisarinama Sinkholes: Multiple sinkholes are present in Sarisarinama, Venezuela, each
one measures about 1,000 feet wide and 350 meters deep.

Bimmah Sinkhole
The World's Biggest Sinkholes
Randy Astaiza Oct. 20, 2012, 11:01 AM

The Bimmah Sinkhole: Located in Oman, this sinkhole about 65 feet deep has become a
popular tourist attraction where people can go swimming.

Winter Park Sinkhole
The World's Biggest Sinkholes
Randy Astaiza Oct. 20, 2012, 11:01 AM

Winter Park Sinkhole: This Florida sinkhole swallowed up sports cars and a community pool
with its massive 350 foot wide opening and 107 foot depth.

20?? Florida
7 terrifying sinkhole disasters
By Lauren Hansen | March 13, 2013

Jeff Bush, a 37-year-old husband and father, was in his Florida bedroom on Feb. 28 when the
Earth opened up, swallowing him and everything in his room whole. The expansive hole was
about 20 feet wide, and had been almost completely hidden by the house as it grew and
shifted. The five other people in the home escaped unharmed. Jeremy Bush tried to save his
brother by jumping into the hole, but then had to be rescued himself. Three days later, the
search for Bush's body was called off, as the ground was considered too unstable and
dangerous to continue. The house was razed, and nearby homes were evacuated. "There's
hardly a place in Florida that's immune to sinkholes, says Sandy Nettles, a geology consultant
in Tampa. "There's no way of ever predicting where a sinkhole is going to occur."

(Edward Linsmier/Getty Images)

2007 Guatemala

Overall, the risk of sinkholes occuring
in Guatemala City is high, but
unpredictable. One recent, similar
sinkhole had collapsed in 2007,
forming a pit 100 meters deep.

The 2007 Guatemala City sinkhole
was formed by fluid from a sewer
eroding uncemented volcanic ash,
limestone, and other pyroclastic
deposits underlying Guatemala City.
The hazards around the pipe have
since then been mitigated, by
improved handling of the city's
wastewater and runoff.

Several rainstorms also contributed to the sinkhole's collapse, as stormwater percolated into
the ground, further dissolving the rocks beneath Guatemala City.

2010 Guatemala
7 terrifying sinkhole disasters
By Lauren Hansen | March 13, 2013

On May 30, 2010, a massive sinkhole "crashed into being" in Guatemala City, Guatemala,
killing at least one man and swallowing an entire three-story building. The hole, which
measured about 60 feet wide and 30 stories deep, may have been months or even years in
the making. But experts suspect Tropical Storm Agatha, which swept through the country and
dumped more than 3 feet of rain water, was likely the final trigger.

(AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

The 2010 Guatemala City sinkhole (14391.40N 902925W) is a sinkhole in Guatemala
City which collapsed due to a combination of reasons, including Tropical Storm Agatha, the
Pacaya Volcano eruption, and leakage from sewer pipes. Its collapse claimed 15 lives, and
swallowed a three-story factory. The sinkhole is approximately 65 ft (20 m) across and 100 ft
(30 m) deep.

Mariela Castan, a reporter for the daily newspaper La Hora, reported that the ground
collapsed suddenly, taking a three-story house that was used as a factory and a security guard
with it. Electricity poles were also sucked in. Authorities said they could not confirm the
security guard's death.

The sinkhole's collapse in Guatemala City's Zona 2 left at least 15 dead, and a further 300
residents' lives were put at risk. Because of the role played by sewage pipes in the sinkhole's
collapse, Sam Bonis, along with other geologists, has demanded that the government inspect
the sewer system more regularly.

According to officials, the sinkhole had similarities with another Guatemalan sinkhole which
collapsed in 2007, which may also have been formed by ruptured sewage pipes.

2008 Texas
7 terrifying sinkhole disasters
By Lauren Hansen | March 13, 2013

Daisetta, Texas, has the unfortunate geological distinction of sitting on top of a salt dome. And
that likely caused sinkholes in 1969, 1981, and, most recently, in 2008. The latest opening
started off modestly enough, at just 20 feet wide. But throughout the day, the phenomenon
appeared to have an unsatiable appetite for land, growing to about 900 feet across and 260
feet deep. Nearby residents watched as the ravenous sinkhole consumed oil field equipment,
trees, and vehicles creating what looked to be a menacing tar pit thanks to the mixture of
oil and mud at its center. Luckily, the sinkhole eventually stabilized, and no one was injured.

(AP Photo/The Beaumont Enterprise, Dave Ryan)

2008? Oklahoma
7 terrifying sinkhole disasters
By Lauren Hansen | March 13, 2013

Located in the northeastern corner of the state, Picher, Okla., was once the most productive
lead and zinc mining field in the area. Nearly a century later, it's a ghost town. All that mining
severely damaged the town's geology, rendering it unlivable due to the plethora of sinkholes,
like this one (pictured in 2008), as well as lead-laced mountains or rock and tainted water.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

2004 Florida
7 terrifying sinkhole disasters
By Lauren Hansen | March 13, 2013

2004 was a rough year for the people of Deltona, Fla. They suffered through three of the
state's four hurricanes. And then in December, a sinkhole opened up, swallowing a busy four-
lane thoroughfare and threatening the surrounding residential area. Within moments of
appearing on Dec. 13, the sinkhole consumed trees, chunks of sidewalk, a utility pole, and
blinking roadside sign. Growing to at least 225 feet wide and 50 feet deep, the cavern,
brought on by the storms, was one of the largest to appear in central Florida in decades.

(AP Photo/Barbara V. Perez)

1998 San Diego
7 terrifying sinkhole disasters
By Lauren Hansen | March 13, 2013

After an underground pipe ruptured on Feb. 23, 1998, a hole opened up just west of Interstate
15, severing at least two major roads and crippling local businesses. It was dark and raining
when the hole first appeared, and one commuter drove his Honda right into the ditch. He
managed to escape unscathed, though his car did not, and he was able to warn other
oncoming motorists about the hole, helping two women to narrowly escape the same fate,
jumping from their pickup truck moments before it fell into the hole. The thoroughfare was
closed for at least five months, forcing some 30,000 motorists through lengthy detours.


1995 San Francisco
7 terrifying sinkhole disasters
By Lauren Hansen | March 13, 2013

In 1995, a heavy rainstorm broke down the soil under a 100-year-old brick sewer in San
Francisco, causing the sewer, which was under reconstruction at the time, to rupture. Then a
massive sinkhole measuring 240 feet long, 150 feet wide, and more than 40 feet deep
consumed a mansion and damaged nearby homes in the city's upscale Seacliff district. While
no one was hurt, the city took a huge financial hit in repairs, cleanup, and claims by adjacent
property owners.

(AP Photo/George Nikitin)

South Atlantic Anomaly

The anomaly at an altitude of
approximately 560 kilometers

The South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA)
is an area where the Earth's inner
Van Allen radiation belt comes
closest to the Earth's surface
dipping down to an altitude of
200km (124mi). This leads to an increased flux of energetic particles in this region and
exposes orbiting satellites to higher than usual levels of radiation. The effect is caused by the
non-concentricity of the Earth and its magnetic dipole, and the SAA is the near-Earth region
where the Earth's magnetic field is weakest relative to an idealized Earth-centered dipole field.

Position and shape

The Van Allen radiation belts are symmetric about the Earth's magnetic axis, which is tilted
with respect to the Earth's rotational axis by an angle of ~11 degrees. The intersection
between the magnetic and rotation axes of the Earth is located not at the Earth's centre, but
some 500 kilometres (300 mi) further North. Because of this asymmetry, the inner Van Allen
belt is closest to the Earth's surface over the south Atlantic ocean where it dips down to
200km (124mi) altitude, and farthest from the Earth's surface over the north Pacific ocean.

A cross-sectional view of the Van
Allen radiation belts, noting the
point where the South Atlantic
Anomaly occurs

One reason for the variation is that
if we represent the Earth's
magnetism by a bar magnet of
small size but strong intensity
("dipole"), the best description is
obtained by placing that magnet
not at the center of Earth but
some distance away from it, more
or less in the direction of
Singapore. As a result, over South
America and the south atlantic, near Singapores antipodal point the magnetic field is relatively
weak, resulting in a lower repulsion to trapped particles of the radiation belts here, and as a
result these particles reach deeper into the upper atmosphere than they otherwise would.

The shape of the SAA changes over time. Since its initial discovery in 1958, the southern limits
of the SAA have remained roughly constant while a long-term expansion has been measured
to the northwest, the north, the northeast, and the east. Additionally, the shape and particle
density of the SAA varies on a diurnal basis, with greatest particle density corresponding
roughly to local noon. At an altitude of approximately 500 km (300 mi), the SAA spans from -
50 to 0 geographic latitude and from -90 to +40 longitude. The highest intensity portion
of the SAA drifts to the west at a speed of about 0.3 degrees per year, and is noticeable in the
references listed below. The drift rate of the SAA is very close to the rotation differential
between the Earth's core and its surface, estimated to be between 0.3 and 0.5 degrees per

Current literature suggests that a slow weakening of the geomagnetic field is one of several
causes for the changes in the borders of the SAA since its discovery. As the geomagnetic field
continues to weaken, the inner Van Allen belt gets closer to the Earth, with a commensurate
enlargement of the SAA at given altitudes.


The South Atlantic Anomaly is of great significance to astronomical satellites and other
spacecraft that orbit the Earth at several hundred kilometers altitude; these orbits take
satellites through the anomaly periodically, exposing them to several minutes of strong
radiation, caused by the trapped protons in the inner Van Allen belt. The International Space
Station, orbiting with an inclination of 51.6, requires extra shielding to deal with this
problem. The Hubble Space Telescope does not take observations while passing through the
SAA. Astronauts are also affected by this region which is said to be the cause of peculiar
'shooting stars' (phosphenes) seen in the visual field of astronauts. Passing through the South
Atlantic Anomaly is thought to be the reason for the early failures of the Globalstar network's

The PAMELA experiment, while passing through the SAA, detected antiproton levels that were
orders of magnitude higher than those expected from normal particle decay. This suggests the
Van Allen belt confines antiparticles produced by the interaction of the Earth's upper
atmosphere with cosmic rays.

NASA has reported that modern laptops have crashed when space shuttle flights passed
through the anomaly, and the SpaceX CRS-1 Dragon spacecraft attached to the International
Space Station during October 2012 experienced a transient problem as it passed through.

St. Elmos Fire

St. Elmo's fire (also St. Elmo's light) is a weather
phenomenon in which luminous plasma is created by a
coronal discharge from a grounded object in an electric
field in the atmosphere (such as those generated by
thunderstorms created by a volcanic eruption)

St. Elmo's fire on a ship at sea

St. Elmo's fire is named after St. Erasmus of Formiae
(also called St. Elmo, the Italian name for St. Erasmus),
the patron saint of sailors. The phenomenon sometimes
appeared on ships at sea during thunderstorms and was
regarded by sailors with religious awe for its glowing
ball of light, accounting for the name.


Physically, St. Elmo's fire is a bright blue or violet glow, appearing like fire in some
circumstances, from tall, sharply pointed structures such as lightning rods, masts, spires and
chimneys, and on aircraft wings. St. Elmo's fire can also appear on leaves, grass, and even at
the tips of cattle horns. Often accompanying the glow is a distinct hissing or buzzing sound. It
is sometimes confused with ball lightning.

In 1750, Michael Dedman hypothesized that a pointed iron rod would light up at the tip during
a lightning storm, similar in appearance to St. Elmo's fire.

Scientific explanation

St. Elmo's fire really good is a mixture of gas and plasma, as are flames in general and stars).
The electric field around the object in question causes ionization of the air molecules,
producing a faint glow easily visible in low-light conditions. Approximately 1000 volts per
centimeter induces St. Elmo's fire; however, this number is greatly dependent on the
geometry of the object in question. Sharp points tend to require lower voltage levels to
produce the same result because electric fields are more concentrated in areas of high
curvature, thus discharges are more intense at the end of pointed objects.

Conditions that can generate St. Elmo's fire are present during thunderstorms, when high
voltage is present between clouds and the ground underneath, electrically charged. Air
molecules glow due to the effects of such voltage, producing St. Elmo's fire.

The nitrogen and oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere causes St. Elmo's fire to fluoresce with
blue or violet light; this is similar to the mechanism that causes neon lights to glow.

Notable observations

In ancient Greece, the appearance of a single one was called Helena and two were called
Castor and Pollux. Occasionally, it was associated with the Greek element of fire, as well as
with one of Paracelsus's elementals, specifically the salamander, or, alternatively, with a
similar creature referred to as an acthnici.

Welsh mariners knew it as canwyll yr ysbryd ("spirit-candles") or canwyll yr ysbryd gln
("candles of the Holy Ghost"), or the "candles of St. David".

The Chinese sea-goddess Mazu is believed to create an ethereal flame atop the mast of ships
to guide and bless lost sailors. In China, St. Elmo's fire is colloquially known as the "fire of

References to St. Elmo's fire can be found in the works of Julius Caesar (De Bello Africo, 47),
Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historia, book 2, par. 101) , and Antonio Pigafetta's journal of his
voyage with Ferdinand Magellan. St. Elmo's fire, also known as "corposants" or "corpusants"
from the Portuguese corpo santo ("holy body"), was a phenomenon described in The Lusiads.

Robert Burton wrote of St. Elmo's fire in his Anatomy of Melancholy: "Radzivilius, the Polonian
duke, calls this apparition, Sancti Germani sidus; and saith moreover that he saw the same
after in a storm, as he was sailing, 1582, from Alexandria to Rhodes". This refers to the
voyage made by Mikoaj Krzysztof "the Orphan" Radziwi in 1582-1584.

On Thursday February 20, 1817, during a severe electrical storm James Braid, then surgeon at
Lord Hopetoun's mines at Leadhills, Lanarkshire, had an extraordinary experience whilst on

On Thursday 20th, I was gratified for a few minutes with the luminous appearance
described above [viz., "such flashes of lightning from the west, repeated every two or
three minutes, sometimes at shorter intervals, as appeared to illumine the whole
heavens"]. It was about nine o'clock, P.M. I had no sooner got on horseback than I
observed the tips of both the horse's ears to be quite luminous: the edges of my hat
had the same appearance. I was soon deprived of these luminaries by a shower of
moist snow which immediately began to fall. The horse's ears soon became wet and
lost their luminous appearance; but the edges of my hat, being longer of getting wet,
continued to give the luminous appearance somewhat longer. I could observe an
immense number of minute sparks darting towards the horse's ears and the margin of
my hat, which produced a very beautiful appearance, and I was sorry to be so soon
deprived of it. The atmosphere in this neighbourhood appeared to be very highly
electrified for eight or ten days about this time. Thunder was heard occasionally from
15th to 23d, during which time the weather was very unsteady: frequent showers of
hail, snow, rain, &c. I can find no person in this quarter who remembers to have ever
seen the luminous appearance mentioned above, before this season,or such a
quantity of lightning darting across the heavens,nor who have heard so much
thunder at that season of the year. This country being all stocked with sheep, and the
herds having frequent occasion to pay attention to the state of the weather, it is not to
be thought that such an appearance can have been at all frequent, and none of them
to have observed it.

Charles Darwin noted the effect while aboard the Beagle. He wrote of the episode in a letter to
J.S. Henslow that one night when the Beagle was anchored in the estuary of the Ro de la

Everything is in flames, the sky with lightning, the water with luminous particles,
and even the very masts are pointed with a blue flame.

St. Elmo's fire is reported to have been seen during the Siege of Constantinople by the
Ottoman Empire in 1453. It reportedly was seen emitting from the top of the Hippodrome. The
Byzantines attributed it to a sign that the Christian God would soon come and destroy the
conquering Muslim army. According to George Sphrantzes, it disappeared just days before
Constantinople fell, ending the Byzantine Empire.

In Two Years before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. describes seeing a corposant in the
southern Atlantic Ocean. However, he may have been talking about ball lightning; as
mentioned earlier it is often erroneously identified as St. Elmo's fire: "There, directly over
where we had been standing, upon the main top-gallant mast-head, was a ball of light, which
the sailors name a corposant (corpus sancti), and which the mate had called out to us to look
at. They were all watching it carefully, for sailors have a notion, that if the corposant rises in
the rigging, it is a sign of fair weather, but if it comes lower down, there will be a storm".

Many Russian sailors have seen them throughout the years. To them, they are "Saint
Nicholas" or "Saint Peter's lights". They were also sometimes called St. Helen's or St. Hermes'
fire, perhaps through linguistic confusion.

St Elmo's fire were also seen during the Great Chicago Fire in Kansas and Oklahoma (US).

Accounts of Magellan's first circumnavigation of the globe refer to St. Elmo's fire being seen
around the fleet's ships multiple times off the coast of South America. The sailors saw these as
favorable omens.

On August 26, 1883, the British warship Charles Ball sailing the Sunda Strait en-route to
Hongkong came within 20 km of the exploding Krakatau volcano and witnessed a great deal of
static electricity in the atmosphere, generated by the movement of tiny particles of rocks and
droplets of water from the volcano's steam, which caused spectacular brush discharges taking
place from the masts and rigging of the ship.

Among the phenomena experienced on British Airways Flight 9 on June 24, 1982 were glowing
light flashes along the leading edges of the aircraft, which were seen by both passengers and
crew. While it shared similarities with St Elmo's fire, the glow experienced was from the
impact of ash particles on the leading edges of the aircraft, similar to that seen by operators of
sandblasting equipment.

St. Elmo's fire was observed and its optical spectrum recorded during a University of Alaska
research flight over the Amazon in 1995 to study sprites.

Sweet water
Disease outbreak feared after mass hysteria over "sweet" water in Mumbai
Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"18 hours of mass hysteria" (according to the Sunday
Times of India) broke out last Friday in Mumbai as
hundreds of residents flocked to Mahim Creek, one of
the most polluted creeks in India that receives
thousands of tonnes of raw sewage and industrial waste
every day after reports that the salt water had suddenly
turned "sweet".

Television reports showed people drinking water on the
spot with their hands, and others bathing, apparently to
wash away their sins with the "holy" water.

At the height of the hysteria, bottled mineral water was
selling for Rs 50 (RM4.50), with people buying the
mineral water simply for the bottles, pouring away the
mineral water and filling the bottles with water from the

A map of Salsette Island showing the Mithi River and
the Mahim Bay

News reports of the Mahim Creek incident sparked
further mass hysteria at Gujarat within hours, with
residents there claiming that seawater at Teethal beach
in Valsad had also turned sweet. About 400 people had
gathered by the beach in the evening.

In the aftermath of the incident, local authorities stated that they were being were extra
vigilant because of the possibility of a severe outbreak of water-borne diseases, such as
gastroenteritis as a result of so many people drinking contaminated water. The Maharashtra
Pollution Control Board had warned people not to drink the water, but despite this many
people had collected it in bottles, even as plastic and rubbish had drifted by on the current.
The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai had ordered a bacteriological report into the
"sweet" water, but suspected that "contamination in the water might have been reduced due
to the waters from Mithi River flowing into the mouth of Mahim Bay".

By Saturday morning, the hysteria had died down, as the taste of the water had returned to

Why the water turned sweet

Geologists at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay and M.D. Zingde, the head of the
Mumbai office of the National Institute of Oceanography explained that the water turning
sweet in Mahim Creek was a natural phenomenon. Continuous rainfall over the preceding few
days had caused a large pool of fresh water to accrue in an underground rock formation near
to the coast, which then discharged into the sea as a large "plume" as fractures in the rocks
widened. Because of the differences in density, the discharged fresh water floated on top of
the salt water of the sea and spread along the coast. Over time, the two mixed to become
normal sea water once more.

A similar explanation for the phenomenon in Gujarat was given by Valsad District Collector D
Rawal. According to him, the reason for the water tasting less salty than usual was that
because of the monsoon, two rivers Auranga and Banki were in spate and had been flowing
into the sea in the region.


"Authorities fear "sweet" water could cause diseases" The Hindu, August 20, 2006
"IIT geologists say Mahim miracle a natural phenomenon" The Hindu, August 20, 2006
"Mumbai's "Sweet" Sea Water Sparks Mass Hysteria" Bernama, August 20, 2006
Rathin Das. "Sweet water miracle in Gujarat too" Hindustan Times, August 19, 2006
"People taste "sweet" sea water in Mumbai" The Times of India, August 19, 2006
"Hundreds drink "sweet seawater"" BBC News Online, August 19, 2006

Weird Clouds

In an otherwise clear September sky near Agen, France in 1814, a small, white, spherical
cloud appeared. It floated motionless for a while before beginning to spin and head quickly
southward. Witnesses reported that deafening rumbling noises thundered from the cloud, and
then it suddenly exploded in a shower of rocks and stones. The cloud then slowly faded away.

Moving Against the Wind
Besides meteorologists, perhaps no group of people knows clouds as well as sailors. On March
22, 1870, the crew of the bark Lady of the Lake saw a remarkable cloud and recorded its
description in the ship's log. The report was reprinted in the Journal of the Royal
Meteorological Society. According to Capt. Banner, it was a circular cloud which included a
semicircle that was divided into four parts, "the central dividing shaft beginning at the center
of the circle and extending far outward, and then curving backward." Transfixed by this light
gray but most unnatural-looking cloud, the sailors watched as it traveled from a point at about
20 degrees above the horizon to a point about 80 degrees above. "It was much lower than the
other clouds," the log stated, and it traveled against the wind. "It came up obliquely against
the wind, and finally settled down right in the wind's eye," the report stated. It was visible to
the ship for half an hour, and when it did finally disappear, it did not disintegrate like a cloud,
but "was lost to sight in the evening darkness."

Triangles in the Cloud
We've all seen dark patches on clouds, but how about patches that move from cloud to cloud?
In the April 8, 1912 edition of Nature, the much-respected British science journal, Charles
Tilden Smith wrote that at Chisbury, Wiltshire, England, he saw something in the sky "unlike
anything that I have ever seen before. Although I have studied the skies for many years, I
have never seen anything like it." Smith recalled that he saw two stationary dark patches
upon the clouds. Extraordinarily, they were stationary with respect to the clouds, which were
rapidly moving. The patches, which he described as fan-shaped or triangular, kept the same
position on succeeding clouds as they passed across a particular region of the sky. Smith
watched them for more than half an hour.

Mysterious Shadows
One year later, Monthly Weather Review published an April 8, 1913 report from Fort Worth,
Texas that described a mysterious shadow of some unseen body on the clouds in the sky. "It
was supposed to have been cast by an unseen cloud," the publication stated, "but this patch of
shade moved with the declining sun."

Attacked by a Cloud
Storm clouds can be foreboding and sometimes dangerous, but it's not often that one appears
to be deliberately malicious. It was a summer morning in 1975 that school teacher Tom
D'Ercole of Oyster Bay, Long Island, had a very bizarre experience with a cloud that seemed to
be after him. D'Ercole was about to get in his car when he saw a small, dark cloud hovering
above his house. "The cloud seemed to move and slightly enlarge as I watched it," the science
teacher said. "This basketball-sized cloud floated back and forth across the peak of the roof,
changing in shape from a small globular mass to a larger ovoid and finally becoming an
abstract, muticurved, dark, vaporous 'something.' It finally measured about six feet in height
and one and a half feet in width." Then things got really strange. As D'Ercole watched in
fascination and puzzlement, the cloud appeared to inhale, form pursed lips, a spit a stream of
water at him and his car - drenching them both. After a few moments, the spray ended and
the cloud disappeared.

Weird Rain
Raining Animals

Raining animals is a rare meteorological phenomenon in which flightless animals "rain" from
the sky. Such occurrences have been reported in many countries throughout history. One
hypothesis offered to explain this phenomenon is that strong winds traveling over water
sometimes pick up creatures such as fish or frogs, and carry them for up to several miles.
However, this primary aspect of the phenomenon has never been witnessed or scientifically
tested. Sometimes the animals survive the fall, suggesting the animals are dropped shortly
after extraction. Several witnesses of raining frogs describe the animals as startled, though
healthy, and exhibiting relatively normal behavior shortly after the event. In some incidents,
however, the animals are frozen to death or even completely encased in ice. There are
examples where the product of the rain is not intact animals, but shredded body parts. Some
cases occur just after storms having strong winds, especially during tornadoes.

However, there have been many unconfirmed cases in which rainfalls of animals have
occurred in fair weather and in the absence of strong winds or waterspouts.

The English language idiom "it is raining cats and dogs", referring to a heavy downpour, is of
uncertain etymology, and there is no evidence that it has any connection to the "raining
animals" phenomenon.

This is a regular occurrence for birds, which can get killed in flight, or stunned and then fall
(unlike flightless creatures, which first have to be lifted into the air by an outside force).
Sometimes this happens in large groups, for instance, the blackbirds falling from the sky in
Beebe, Arkansas, United States on December 31, 2010. It is common for birds to become
disoriented (for example, because of bad weather or fireworks) and collide with objects such
as trees or buildings, killing them or stunning them into falling to death. The number of
blackbirds killed in Beebe is not spectacular considering the size of their congregations, which
can be in the millions. The event in Beebe, however, captured the imagination and led to more
reports in the media of birds falling from the sky across the globe, such as in Sweden and
Italy, though many scientists claim such mass deaths are common occurrences but usually go

Tornadoes may lift up animals into the air and deposit them miles away.

French physicist Andr-Marie Ampre was among the first scientists to take seriously accounts
of raining animals. He tried to explain rains of frogs with a hypothesis that was eventually
refined by other scientists. Speaking in front of the Society of Natural Sciences, Ampre
suggested that at times frogs and toads roam the countryside in large numbers, and that the
action of violent winds can pick them up and carry them great distances.

More recently, a scientific explanation for the phenomenon has been developed that involves
tornadic waterspouts. Waterspouts are capable of capturing objects and animals and lifting
them into the air. Under this theory, waterspouts or tornados transport animals to relatively
high altitudes, carrying them over large distances. The winds are capable of carrying the
animals over a relatively wide area and allow them to fall in a concentrated fashion in a
localized area. More specifically, some tornadoes can completely suck up a pond, letting the
water and animals fall some distance away in the form of a rain of animals.

This hypothesis appears supported by the type of animals in these rains: small and light,
usually aquatic. It is also supported by the fact that the rain of animals is often preceded by a
storm. However the theory does not account for how all the animals involved in each
individual incident would be from only one species, and not a group of similarly-sized animals
from a single area.
Doppler Image from Texas showing the
collision of a thunderstorm with a group of
bats in flight. The color red indicates the
animals flying into the storm.

In the case of birds, storms may overcome
a flock in flight, especially in times of
migration. The image here shows an
example where a group of bats is
overtaken by a thunderstorm. The image
shows how the phenomenon could take
place in some cases. In the image, the
bats are in the red zone, which corresponds to winds moving away from the radar station, and
enter into a mesocyclone associated with a tornado (in green). These events may occur easily
with birds in flight. In contrast, it is harder to find a plausible explanation for rains of
terrestrial animals; the enigma persists despite scientific studies.

Sometimes, scientists have been incredulous of extraordinary claims of rains of fish. For
example, in the case of a rain of fish in Singapore in 1861, French naturalist Francis de
Laporte de Castelnau explained that the supposed rain took place during a migration of
walking catfish, which are capable of dragging themselves over the land from one puddle to
another. Thus, he argued that the appearance of fish on the ground immediately after a rain
was easily explained, as these animals usually move over soft ground or after a rain.

The following list is a selection of examples.


Singapore, February 22, 1861
Olneyville, Rhode Island, May 15, 1900
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, July 1, 1903
Marksville, Louisiana, October 23, 1947
Kerala, India, February 12, 2008
Bhanwad, Jamnagar, India, Oct 24, 2009
Lajamanu, Northern Territory, Australia, February 25 and 26, 2010,
Loreto, Agusan del Sur, Philippines, January 13, 2012

Frogs and toads

Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, June 2009 (occurrences reported throughout the month)
Rkczifalva, Hungary, 1820 June 2010 (twice)


An unidentified animal (thought to be a cow) fell in California ripped to tiny pieces
on August 1, 1869; a similar incident was reported in Olympian Springs, Bath County,
Kentucky in 1876
Jellyfish fell from the sky in Bath, England, in 1894
Spiders fell from the sky in Salta Province, Argentina on April 6, 2007.
Worms dropped from the sky in Jennings, Louisiana, on July 11, 2007.
According to a video, Spiders fell from the sky in Santo Antnio da Platina, Brazil, on
February 3, 2013. (However, it has been suggested as falling from a mass web
between elevated poles.)

1897 Minnesota Rain of Insects

Mr. John Zeleny witnessed a peculiar, unexplained event in 1897. In a letter printed in a 1932
edition of Science magazine, Zeleny described a luminous, cumulus-type cloud that drifted
over Hutchinson, Minnesota from the east. "It shone with a uniform, steady, vivid, whitish
light and passed directly over the town," Zeleny wrote. "When the cloud was overhead, a
great shower of insects descended to earth covering the ground all around to the number of
about 50 to 100 per square foot." Upon examination, the insects proved to be a common type
of bug of the species hemiptera. Zeleny also reported a second event that took place that
same year but in Macerata, Italy. This time, out of blood-red clouds precipitated thousands of
seeds unfamiliar to locals.

2000 Ethiopia Rain of Fish

One of the most recent examples of fish falling from the sky took place the summer of 2000 in
Ethiopia. A local newspaper reported: "The unusual rain of fish, which dropped in millions from
the air - some dead and others still struggling - created panic among the mostly religious
farmers." This is just one of countless case studies of rains of fish, frogs, periwinkles - even
alligators - that have been cataloged over the centuries, many by famed paranormal
researcher Charles Fort. (Such rains of creatures have been, in fact, come to be known as
"Fortean" activity.)

Most often these rains of animals are attributed to severe storms, tornadoes, water spouts and
related phenomena. Although the theory has not yet been proved, it holds that strong winds
pick up the fish or frogs from bodies of water such as ponds, streams and lakes, carry them
aloft - sometimes for miles and miles - and then drop them over land.

The peculiar fact that challenges this theory is this: in most cases, the rains are of one kind of
animal only. It rains one species of herring, for example, or a particular kind of frog. How can
this be explained? Could a powerful gust of wind be so discriminating? If the storm scooped up
water from a pond, wouldn't it rain all kinds of things one finds in a pond - frogs, toads, fish,
weeds, sticks and probably beer cans?

*Raining Petals


A whirlpool is a swirling body of water produced by the
meeting of opposing currents. The vast majority of
whirlpools are not very powerful. More powerful ones
are properly termed maelstroms. Vortex is the proper
term for any whirlpool that has a downdraft. Whirlpools
in oceans are usually caused by tides. Very small
whirlpools can easily be seen when a bath or a sink is
draining, but these are produced in a very different
manner from those in nature. Smaller whirlpools also
appear at the base of many waterfalls. In the case of
powerful waterfalls, like Niagara Falls, these whirlpools
can be quite strong. The most powerful whirlpools are created in narrow, shallow straits with
fast flowing water.

Notable whirlpools

A small whirlpool in Tionesta Creek in the Allegheny
National Forest

Some of the most notable whirlpools in the world are
the Saltstraumen outside Bod in Norway, which
reaches speeds of 37 km/h (23 mph); the
Moskstraumen off the Lofoten islands in Norway (the
original maelstrom), which reaches speeds of 27.8 km/h
(17.3 mph); the Old Sow in Eastport, Maine, United
States, which has been measured with a speed of up to
27.6 km/h (17.1 mph); the Naruto whirlpools in Japan,
which have a speed of 20 km/h (12 mph); and the Corryvreckan in Scotland, which reaches
speeds of 18 km/h (11 mph).

Powerful whirlpools have killed unlucky seafarers, but their power tends to be exaggerated by
laymen. There are virtually no stories of large ships ever being sucked into a whirlpool. Tales
like those by Paul the Deacon, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jules Verne are entirely fictional.

There was a short-lived whirlpool that sucked in a portion of Lake Peigneur in New Iberia,
Louisiana, United States after a drilling mishap in 1980. This was not a naturally-occurring
whirlpool, but a man-made disaster caused by breaking through the roof of a salt mine. The
lake then behaved like a gigantic bathtub being drained, until the mine filled and the water
levels equalized.

Will o' the Wisp

The phenomenon of strange light flickering over peat bogs, called ignis fatuus or jack-o'-

The term jack-o'-lantern originally meant a night watchman, or man with a lantern, with the
earliest known use in the 1660s in East Anglia; and later, meaning an ignis fatuus or will-o'-
the-wisp. In Newfoundland and Labrador, both names "Jacky Lantern" and "Jack the Lantern"
refer to the will-o'-the-wisp concept rather than the pumpkin carving aspect.

A will-o'-the-wisp or ignis fatuus (Medieval Latin: "foolish fire") are atmospheric ghost lights
seen by travellers at night, especially over bogs, swamps or marshes. It resembles a flickering
lamp and is said to recede if approached, drawing travellers from the safe paths. The
phenomenon is known by a variety of names, including jack-o'-lantern, hinkypunk, and hobby
lantern in English folk belief, well attested in English folklore and in much of European folklore.


The term "will-o'-the-wisp" comes from "wisp", a bundle of sticks or paper sometimes used as
a torch, and the name "Will": thus, "Will-of-the-torch". The term jack-o'-lantern "Jack of [the]
lantern" has a similar meaning.

In the United States, they are often called "spook-lights", "ghost-lights", or "orbs" by
folklorists and paranormal enthusiasts.

Folk belief attributes the phenomenon to fairies or elemental spirits, explicitly in the term
"hobby lanterns" found in the 19th century Denham Tracts. Briggs' A Dictionary of Fairies
provides an extensive list of other names for the same phenomenon, though the place where
they are observed (graveyard, bogs, etc.) influences the naming considerably. When observed
on graveyards, they are known as "ghost candles", also a term from the Denham Tracts.

The names will-o'-the-wisp and jack-o'-lantern are explained in etiological folk-tales, recorded
in many variant forms in Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Appalachia, and Newfoundland. In
these tales, protagonists named either Will or Jack are doomed to haunt the marshes with a
light for some misdeed.

One version, from Shropshire, recounted by K. M. Briggs in her book A Dictionary of Fairies,
refers to Will the Smith. Will is a wicked blacksmith who is given a second chance by Saint
Peter at the gates to Heaven, but leads such a bad life that he ends up being doomed to
wander the Earth. The Devil provides him with a single burning coal with which to warm
himself, which he then uses to lure foolish travellers into the marshes.

An Irish version of the tale has a ne'er-do-well named Drunk Jack or Stingy Jack who makes a
deal with the Devil, offering up his soul in exchange for payment of his pub tab. When the
Devil comes to collect his due, Jack tricks him by making him climb a tree and then carving a
cross underneath, preventing him from climbing down. In exchange for removing the cross,
the Devil forgives Jack's debt. However, because no one as bad as Jack would ever be allowed
into Heaven, Jack is forced upon his death to travel to Hell and ask for a place there. The Devil
denies him entrance in revenge, but, as a boon, grants Jack an ember from the fires of Hell to
light his way through the twilight world to which lost souls are forever condemned. Jack places
it in a carved turnip to serve as a lantern. Another version of the tale, "Willy the Whisp", is
related in Irish Folktales by Henry Glassie. The first modern novel in the Irish language,
Sadna by Peadar Ua Laoghaire, is a version of the tale.

Scientific explanation

The earliest attempt to scientifically explain the causes of ignes fatui was by the Italian
physicist Alessandro Volta in 1776 when he discovered methane. He proposes that natural
electrical phenomena (like lightning) interacting with marsh gas may be the cause of ignes
fatui. This was supported by the British polymath Joseph Priestley in his series of works
Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air (17721790); and by the French
physicist Pierre Bertholon de Saint-Lazare in De llectricit des mtores (1787).

Early critics of the marsh gas hypothesis often dismissed it on various grounds including the
unlikeliness of spontaneous combustion, the absence of warmth in some observed ignes fatui,
the odd behavior of ignes fatui receding upon being approached, as well as the differing
accounts of ball lightning (which was also classified as a kind of ignes fatui). An example of
such criticism is the following by the American anthropologist John G. Owens in Folk-Lore from
Buffalo Valley (1891):

This is a name that is sometimes applied to a phenomenon perhaps more frequently
called Jack-o'-the-Lantern, or Will-o'-the-Wisp. It seems to be a ball of fire, varying in
size from that of a candle-flame to that of a man's head. It is generally observed in
damp, marshy places, moving to and fro; but it has been known to stand perfectly still
and send off scintillations. As you approach it, it will move on, keeping just beyond
your reach; if you retire, it will follow you. That these fireballs do occur, and that they
will repeat your motion, seems to be established, but no satisfactory explanation has
yet been offered that I have heard. Those who are less superstitious say that it is the
ignition of the gases rising from the marsh. But how a light produced from burning gas
could have the form described and move as described, advancing as you advance,
receding as you recede, and at other times remaining stationary, without having any
visible connection with the earth, is not clear to me.

However, the apparent retreat of ignes fatui upon being approached might be explained
simply by the agitation of the air by nearby moving objects, causing the gases to disperse.
This was observed in the very detailed accounts of several close interactions with ignes fatui
published earlier in 1832 by Major Louis Blesson after a series of experiments in various
localities where they were known to occur. Of note is his first encounter with ignes fatui in a
marshland between a deep valley in the forest of Gorbitz, Newmark, Germany. Blesson
observed that the water was covered by an iridescent film, and during day-time, bubbles could
be observed rising abundantly from certain areas. At night, Blesson observed bluish-purple
flames in the same areas and concluded that it was connected to the rising gas. He spent
several days investigating the phenomenon, finding to his dismay that the flames retreated
every time he tried to approach them. He eventually succeeded and was able to confirm that
the lights were indeed caused by ignited gas. The British scientist Charles Tomlinson in On
Certain Low-Lying Meteors (1893) describes Blesson's experiments as thus:

On visiting the spot at night, the sensitive flames retired as the major advanced; but on
standing quite still, they returned, and he tried to light a piece of paper at them, but the
current of air produced by his breath kept them at too great a distance. On turning away his
head, and screening his breath, he succeeded in setting fire to the paper. He was also able to
extinguish the flame by driving it before him to a part of the ground where no gas was
produced; then applying a flame to the place whence the gas issued, a kind of explosion was
heard over eight or nine square feet of the marsh; a red light was seen, which faded to a blue
flame about three feet high, and this continued to burn with an unsteady motion. As the
morning dawned the flames became pale, and they seemed to approach nearer and nearer to
the earth, until at last they faded from sight.

Blesson also observed differences in the color and heat of the flames in different marshes. The
ignes fatui in Malapane, Upper Silesia (now Ozimek, Poland) could be ignited and
extinguished, but were unable to burn pieces of paper or wood shavings. Similarly, the ignes
fatui in another forest in Poland coated pieces of paper and wood shavings with an oily viscous
fluid instead of burning them. Blesson also accidentally created ignes fatui in the marshes of
Porta Westfalica, Germany, while launching fireworks.

In modern science, it is generally accepted that most ignes fatui are caused by the oxidation
of phosphine (PH3), diphosphane (P2H4), and methane (CH4). These compounds, produced
by organic decay, can cause photon emissions. Since phosphine and diphosphane mixtures
spontaneously ignite on contact with the oxygen in air, only small quantities of it would be
needed to ignite the much more abundant methane to create ephemeral fires. Furthermore,
phosphine produces phosphorus pentoxide as a by-product, which forms phosphoric acid upon
contact with water vapor. This might explain the "viscous moisture" described by Blesson.

One attempt to replicate ignes fatui under laboratory conditions was in 1980 by British
geologist Alan A. Mills of the Leicester University. Though he did succeed in creating a cool
glowing cloud by mixing crude phosphine and natural gas, the color of the light was green and
it produced copious amounts of acrid smoke. This was contrary to most eyewitness accounts
of ignes fatui. As an alternative, Mills proposed in 2000 that ignes fatui may instead be cold
flames. These are luminescent pre-combustion halos that occur when various compounds are
heated to just below ignition point. Cold flames are indeed typically bluish in color and as their
name suggests, they generate very little heat. Cold flames occur in a wide variety of
compounds, including hydrocarbons (including methane), alcohols, aldehydes, oils, acids, and
even waxes. However it is unknown if cold flames occur naturally, though a lot of compounds
which exhibit cold flames are the natural byproducts of organic decay.

A related hypothesis involves the natural chemiluminescence of phosphine. In 2008, the
Italian chemists Luigi Garlaschelli and Paolo Boschetti attempted to recreate Mills'
experiments. They successfully created a faint cool light by mixing phosphine with air and
nitrogen. Though the glow was still greenish in color, Garlaschelli and Boschetti noted that
under low-light conditions, the human eye cannot easily distinguish between colors.
Furthermore, by adjusting the concentrations of the gases and the environmental conditions
(temperature, humidity, etc.), it was possible to eliminate the smoke and smell, or at least
render it to undetectable levels. Garlaschelli and Boschetti also agreed with Mills that cold
flames may also be a plausible explanation for other instances of ignes fatui.

In 1993, professors Derr and Persinger proposed that some ignes fatui may be geologic in
origin, piezoelectrically generated under tectonic strain. The strains that move faults would
also heat up the rocks, vaporizing the water in them. Rock or soil containing something
piezoelectric, like quartz, silicon, or arsenic, may also produce electricity, channeled up to the
surface through the soil via a column of vaporized water, there somehow appearing as earth
lights. This would explain why the lights appear electrical, erratic, or even intelligent in their

Other explanations link will-o'-the-wisps to bioluminescence, e.g., honey fungus and fireflies.
Barn owls also have white plumage that may reflect enough light from sources such as the
moon to appear as a will-o'-the-wisp; hence the possibility of the lights moving, reacting to
other lights, etc.

Ignes fatui sightings are rarely reported today. The decline is believed to be the result of the
draining and reclamation of swamplands in recent centuries, such as the formerly vast
Fenlands of eastern England which have now been converted to farmlands.


In astronomy, a syzygy (from the Ancient Greek suzugos meaning, yoked together.) is a
straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies in a gravitational system. The word is often
used in reference to the Sun, the Earth and either the Moon or a planet, where the latter is in
conjunction or opposition. Solar and lunar eclipses occur at times of syzygy, as do transits and
occultations. The term is often applied when the Sun and Moon are in conjunction (new moon)
or opposition (full moon).

The word syzygy is often loosely used to describe interesting configurations of planets in
general. For example, one such case occurred on March 21, 1894 around 23:00 GMT, when
Mercury transited the Sun as seen from Venus, and Mercury and Venus both simultaneously
transited the Sun as seen from Saturn.

It is also used to describe situations when all the planets are on the same side of the Sun
although they are not necessarily in a straight line, such as on March 10, 1982.


The gravitational effects of syzygies on planets, especially the Earth, are still being studied. It
is known that the gravitational stress on the Moon during a Sun-Earth-Moon syzygy can
trigger a Moonquake, a seismic event on the Moon similar in some ways to an Earthquake. So
far, no evidence has been found that the Sun-Earth-Moon syzygy can trigger earthquakes, and
it is considered highly unlikely that any correlation between syzygy and earthquakes exist
since the Earth is 82 times more massive than the Moon, and thus the gravitational force on
the Earth from the Moon is trivial compared to its mass.

There is no controversy about the effect of a syzygy on ocean tides. The syzygy produces the
more powerful spring tide due to the enhanced gravitational effect of the Sun added to the
Moon's gravitational pull.