Mysterylights Group Message 0378

Subject: Re: exactly what can and cannot an earthlight do
From: "sean_b_palmer" <sean@...>
Date: 05 Apr 2006 17:44

On Tue Apr 4, 2006 8:30 pm, Peter Hassall wrote: 

> To simplify, there appear to be two main types of ball
> lightning. One is generally seen during storms, [...] 
> the other type is seen during calm conditions

The problem with calling the latter a form of ball lightning is that I
don't think that a majority of respondants in a survey would say that
light produced without a storm can be lightning. It's also dangerous
in that it's adding an interpretation to the observations that isn't
there: with ball lightning produced in a storm, it's often recorded to
have visibly been produced by the clouds. With ball lightning produced
outside of a storm, who's to say what the source is? It can't be the
clouds because there aren't any, or aren't any that produce lightning.

In fact, this problem applies to ball lightning seen in a storm too:
people may say they saw ball lightning when what they really saw was a
ball of light during a thunderstorm. Sure, it's a very logical
connection to link the two, but it is only a logical connection--if
it's not been observed directly, then it's not proven. I think it's
important to isolate objective facts from speculation, whatever the
strength of the speculation, because even the strongest of
suppositions can sometimes prove to be incorrect.

> There is also a subgroup (nearly always seen only inside
> houses) that changes shape (many reports in the UFO literature
> e.g. Flying Saucer Review magazine). 

Perhaps this subgroup exists in the external forms too, but the people
viewing it aren't close enough to see the change in shape? Indeed,
doesn't Devereux describe something along these shape-shifting lines
for his encounter whilst at art school? He was indoors, I recall, but
the phenomenon that he saw was outdoors.

> [...] there are spooklights/ghost lights seen repeatedly 
> in one area (e.g the Hornet Spooklight, Min Min lights, 
> etc.). many of these reports may be explained as car 
> headlights,e tc. but some close up sighting are difficyult 
> to explain.

Yeah, fully agreed there. The geological link there is one of the
distinguishing characteristics of the things that we call "earth
lights", though since it's such a relative neologism--the term was
only invented in 1982--perhaps we still have time to influence what is
meant by it.

I would also guess that many sporadic sightings of earth light style
phenomena have the same mechanism as those that occur repeatedly in a
single area, but that is difficult to prove either way. The main thing
for me is if they've been seen to come from the ground (definite earth
light), or are appearing in a flap where others have been seen to come
from the ground (very probable earth light).

> Then there are earthquake lights which may or may not be the
> same as spooklights.

Agreed here also. Speculatively, it looks like there is probably a
very strong link between the two phenomena.

> Lastly, there are generally accepted light phenomena like
> swamp gas, St. Elmo's fire, etc.=20=20 

Actually, I've been finding recently that "swamp gas" as you call it
("Will-o'-the-wisp" to me) poses some interesting problems of its own.
Sightings of it are rarer now due to urbanisation and drainage, but
from the sightings mentioned in antiquity, it's clear that the ignis
fatuus didn't always obey the behaviour that would be expected from
ignited marsh gas.

Moreover, there *have* already been misidentifications that have been
grouped under Will-o'-the-wisps. John Brand, in 1777, called St.
Elmo's fire a kind of Will-o'-the-wisp. And Devereux quotes a case
where a "Will-o'-the-wisp" was said to float about the treetops. Yet
we would not now classify either of these as being Will-o'-the-wisps,
and I suspect that there may be further desynonymisation to occur.

In other words, I don't doubt that some from of gaseous emission by
the earth that gets ignited through some convoluted mechanism may
account for the bulk of what we call Will-o'-the-wisp sightings. Or it
may be some other mechanism, but in the broad sense I would say there
is likely to be a core of sightings that share a similar mechanism.
But then the more mobile sightings--the sightings of lights that dance
about and reappar elsewhere, or move against the wind--may have a
completely different explanation. They may be more akin to earth
lights, for all we know, or something different entirely.

> I mostly agree with Corliss' categories but sometimes an
> event is listing in what (IMHO) appears to be the wrong
> category.

Yeah, definitely agreed. I notice, for example, that he appears to
have put what I think we could now identify as Sprites and Blue Jets
in several different categories. Such is the danger of the
characteristic based classification mechanism.

> Are you using his volume Remarkable Luminous 
> Phenomena in Nature: A Catalog of Geophysical Anomalies
> [...]? It is well worth getting this updated one if you 
> only have the 1982 version. packed full of extra examples.

Ah, no! Thank you! I only have the 1982 version at the moment, so I'll
try to get the newer one since it seems much better.


Sean B. Palmer,

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