One of my favorite mysterious natural phenomena has been reported in conjunction with the recent California earthquake.
Several people called the KPIX 5 newsroom after Sunday morning’s magnitude 6.0 earthquake in Napa, reporting mysterious flashes of light in the sky. Witnesses said the strange phenomenon looked like lightning.
The report quoted Friedemann Freund, a scientist with the SETI Institute in Mountain View, who studies earthquake lights.
“What they are, are a consequence of the stresses building up deep below the earth, seven miles like in the case of the Napa Valley earthquake,” Freund told KPIX 5.
The scientific jury has still not declared officially yay or nay on earthquake lights. Their occurrence directly correlated in time with quakes is not reliable and may be attributable to other flashes like lightning, exploding transformers or electrical cable breaks.
Twitter recorded some people’s comments on seeing the lights. These appear to be folks that did not know that EQ lights are a thing but just noticed the sky flash.
Another source quotes Freund with sightings from other areas after the quake and includes quotes from those who described what they saw. Most people described it as a blue flash.
Freund said Monday that he is not surprised by local reports of EQLs following the quake near American Canyon. He also had received reports from the San Pablo Bay area and Vacaville.
He said EQLs occur because electrical charges are created when rocks in the earth are being stressed.
This is controversial but does not go against the physics of rock stress and atmospheric science. The stress of breaking and moving rocks creates ions that may escape to the surface air. Ionized air can glow. Earthquake lights (EQLs) come in a great variety of shapes and colors and can appear out of the ground or from the sky. They can be seen moments before a quake as a glowing dome or as flashes, curtains, sheets, funnels, arcs or balls that may even travel along the fault line in blue, red, green, yellow, orange, purple or white. Source It is not like a lightning discharge along a path, but is diffuse.
Small scale versions of similar phenomenon have been produced in the lab but to scale it up to earth size is unreasonable. However, with advances in technology and the widespread use of security cameras, these flashes are documented with greater regularity. Still, they are so fleeting and rather rare that it is difficult to study them objectively so we still know little about the phenomenon. Scientists are by nature very conservative with conclusions which explains why EQLs have been slow to gain acceptance.
Back in January, Freund was part of a team who documented historical accounts of lights related to seismic activity. New paper on earthquake lights show they are a reality. Additional research shows that the ionosphere shows effects from these events on occasion but the situation for producing the ionization does not always occur. Thus, electrical precursors are not a reliable prediction source and will not occur with every quake.
Here is a clip of earthquakes lights caught on camera, blue flashes on the horizon, during a quake in Peru.
UPDATE (08-Sept-2014) I received an email with this video from a security camera. The person who took it said that while there were blown transformers, some flashes are different than others. The clock was off seven minutes. She has shown this to Freund.
Tip: Matt Crowley