Science

Researchers Solve 'Earthquake Light' Mystery! They Aren't UFOs Appearing Just Before Earthquakes

  • , Design & Trend
  • Jan, 05, 2014, 01:39 PM
Earthquake lights
Earthquake lights are a real phenomenon - they are not UFOs. Rare lights in the air before or during an earthquake have been noted by eyewitnesses for centuries but, until now, have baffled scientists.

Researchers say they have solved a long-standing mystery of why UFO-lights sometimes appear just before an earthquake. The lights may be the result of crystalline structure of the magmatic stones, which when subjected to intense pressure releases electrical energy, the researchers said.

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Rare lights in the air before or during an earthquake have been noted by eyewitnesses for centuries but, have been mistaken for UFOs or dismissed as hallucinations.

Recently, a few researchers have found a source for the mysterious lights deep beneath Earth's crust.

Published in the journal Seismological Research Letters, the researchers analyzed 65 documented occurrences of earthquake lights from 1600 to the present. The Great San Francisco Earthquake was one of these- people saw streams of light running along the ground, two nights preceding that region's great earthquake.

The study researchers noted an electrical current that flows out of some earthquake fault lines as the composite plates that form the crust, grind against each other. When this stress-induced electrical current reach Earth's surface, they create a glow.

Most of the big earthquakes happen at subduction zones-sites where one continental plate dives below another. But the earthquake incidents where bystanders saw lights challenged the trend. Of the cases that the researchers examined, 97 percent seemed to happen at faults within continental plates, rather than at subduction zones.

The steep geometry explains the earthquake lights.

Team member Friedemann Freund, a mineral physicist at the NASA Ames Research Center in California, believes a chemical process causes the lights.

"When the stress of an earthquake hits the rock, it breaks chemical bonds involved in these defects, creating holes of positive electrical charge," Nature reports. "These 'p holes' flow can vertically through the fault to the surface, triggering strong local electric fields that can generate light."

Extreme frictions would form steep and vertical faults that would extend deep into the Earth's magma, allowing primitive magmatic rocks that were once buried deep down to migrate closer to the Earth's surface.

These magma rocks tend to have crystalline structures; and when they are stressed, they are likelier to conduct electricity, which then flows to the Earth's surface, ionizes the air, and creates flashes of light.

"If you see visible lights in the sky, and you live in an earthquake-prone area, they might be an early-warning sign that an earthquake is approaching," said Robert Thériault, a geologist with Quebec's Ministry of Natural Resources.

Thériault expects that more public awareness of the events' associations with earthquakes could aid, citing an instance in L'Aquila when a local took his family to safety after noting flashes of light in the sky earlier to the 2009 quake.

"It's one of the very few documented accounts of someone acting on the presence of earthquake lights as a pre-earthquake phenomenon, in combination with other types of parameters that vary prior to seismic activity, may one day help forecast the approach of a major quake," said Thériault.

 

 

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