New paper on earthquake lights show they are a reality

I am so excited about this story. As a geologist who has studied anomalous phenomena connected to earthquakes, this is an excellent step forward to understanding earthquake lights. This will be of interest to Forteans, anomalists, geophysicists and even UFO chasers!

Scientists find records of rare “earthquake lights”.

They’ve been mistaken for UFOs or dismissed as hallucinations. Now geologists have collected a near-definitive list of a rare but fascinating phenomenon — earthquake lights.

A study out Thursday in the journal Seismological Research Letters shows such quakes are tied to a specific type of temblor in areas where certain geological formations occur.

While rare, researchers were able to document 65 examples between 1600 and the present.

“When a powerful seismic wave runs through the ground and hits a layer of such rocks, it compresses the rocks with great pressure and speed, creating conditions under which large amounts of positive and negative electrical charges are generated,” he said. These charges can then travel together, allowing them to reach what’s called a plasma state, which can burst out and shoot up into the air.

Since looking into anomalies as precursors to quakes, I’ve understood that certain precursors, such as earthquake lights, ionospheric disturbances, strange animal behavior, gas releases or groundwater changes will not happen predictably before each event. We can not generalize earthquakes across the board and even one quake to another in the same area may be significantly different. This is why EQ lights are rare. They take a unique setup and stress to occur. But occur they DO.

More: Earthquake lights linked to rift environments, subvertical faults.

People have chuckled at me when I’ve said I do believe there is certainly something to EQ lights, reports of strange animal behavior, etc. In this case, carefully documenting the anomalies panned out as a valuable activity. I am so excited for more research in this area.

Kimyo earthquake lights. Photo Credit: Karl V. Steinbrugge Collection, Earthquake Engineering Research Center.

Kimyo earthquake lights, Japan. Photo Credit: Karl V. Steinbrugge Collection, University of California, Berkeley.

Also, if anyone can get me a copy of this paper, I would certainly love to add it to my collection.

Here is a clip of earthquakes lights caught on camera, blue flashes on the horizon, during a quake in Peru.

For my three part piece on earthquake precursors, here it is: Whispers from the Earth 1, 2, 3. Also published in its entirety in The Anomalist #13.

Tip: Matt Crowley

  5 comments for “New paper on earthquake lights show they are a reality

  1. Brian Dunning
    January 2, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    So if I’m reading this correctly, it manifests as lightning?

  2. January 2, 2014 at 1:36 PM

    I have a couple of pieces of quarz in my bathroom. If I squeeze and rub them together, they give off “sparks” from a piezo effect. I’m guessing this is similar.

  3. idoubtit
    January 2, 2014 at 1:38 PM

    I wish I had the paper. But plasma can come out as flashes or as ball lightning, but I don’t think it looks like lightning bolts.
    This may also related to ionized air effects which could explain other phenomena.

  4. January 2, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    That’s great. Earthquake lights were one of the main reasons i got into geophysics. Never got to study them, but i’m glad to see i wasn’t too crazy for having an interest.

  5. January 23, 2014 at 4:30 PM

    It´s an older news release, so I doubt it´s still necessary, but in case I have a copy of the original Seismological Research Letters paper to share for review and educational purpose (fair use) – it´s interesting to note that the authors itself admit one major flaw in their paper – they had to heavily cherry-pick the data, as most consists of simple descriptions of lights or flames (often simply natural fires or stars misidentified by testimonies)

    P.S. many sites included a video of supposed earthquake-lights at the 2008 Sichuan-earthquakes, it seems not be consistent with any description of “classic” earthquake light and I would be thankful for some further info



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