Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for the 'Fortean' Category

Leaping Streams of Light: a New Natural Phenomenon

Bill Beaty may have discovered a new natural phenomenon, with the surprising help of, of all sources, Youtube.

Years ago during museum exhibits work I was explaining rainbow optics …and also explaining thunderstorm dynamics. I stumbled across a strange idea: shouldn’t the strong electrostatic fields in thunderstorms have a visible effect on rainbows?”, he speculated.

E-fields should slightly distort falling raindrops, causing the light distribution of a rainbow to change slightly. Sometimes we should notice that a rainbow suddenly "flicks" during a lightning bolt, then slowly changes to its initial pattern as the e-fields build before another strike.

He didn’t find flickering rainbows, but Youtube users “LordHermie” and “JimBob” pointed to him videos recording something very akin to what he originally suggested: leaping streams of light above rising thunderheads, brightly back-lit by the Sun.

“Rather than distortions of droplets, perhaps these are "sundogs" or parhelia light patterns caused by aligned ice crystals. A changing e-field could rotate all the ice plates or needles, causing the sundog to suddenly change shape and position. Or less likely, perhaps some condensing droplets are changing size under e-field influence (growth/shrinkage of small droplets is known to be altered by strong electrostatic fields.)”

We do know that ice crystals can populate thunderheads. And if Beaty’s “strange idea” is that they could align themselves under the influence of changing electrical fields, as he notes, this has been observed in laboratory conditions (Foster, Hallet, 2002, 2008). And it has also been observed in situ, due to thunderstorms, with meteorological radars (Caylor, Chandrasekar, 1996).

The big news here would be that these phenomena would combine to produce these light shows we may be seeing in these different videos, with several witnesses from different locations in Maryland, USA and Malaysia.

[Atmospheric Optics]

Beaty suggested they could be leaping sundogs, but like the rainbow’s end, you could chase parhelia but never reach them. Their position in the sky is only apparent. Ice crystals changing their orientation could change the configuration of halos, but it would probably not look like what we see in the videos, nor would it be dependent on the position of the thunderhead.

Instead, this could be something more direct than rainbows or halos, by having ice crystals actually changing the way they are reflecting streams of sunlight.

There are certainly many other possibilities, from hoaxes to a more prosaic mechanical action – like a thunder shockwave. But the behavior of the leaping streams of light, by almost instantly changing (apparently faster than a shockwave, thus eliminating mechanical action), and then slowly returning to the initial configuration, is certainly indicative that Beaty’s original suggestion of electrical fields influencing suspended ice crystals or droplets may be on to a fascinating, and so far unknown natural phenomenon.

There must be other records of this around, from video sharing sites  to perhaps even historical accounts, mixed and confused with all kinds of other things. You see, this may be an actual unidentified aerial phenomenon being discovered… through Youtube.

We do live in interesting times. [with thanks to Bill Beaty, Martin Shough and Manuel Borraz]

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Popularity: 5% [?]


Double or split Sun in China?

“Weeks after a story shot across the Web claiming that the imminent explosion of a nearby star would result in the appearance of a second sun in the sky — a story that was later debunked — two suns were caught on camera yesterday in China. The suns — one fuzzy and orange, the other a crisp yellow orb — appeared side-by-side, one slightly higher than the other. What’s going on?”
‘Two suns’ spotted in China defy explanation

A tentative explanation by Jim Kaler was quoted on Life’s Little Mysteries, summarized as “an effect of optical refraction”. But as they themselves quoted other experts, this does not seem like anything seen before. That is, “sun dogs, sunset mirages, sun pillars and sun halos are all relatively common and well understood. But not this effect”.

Basically they are symmetric and appear some degrees apart from the Sun. They may be partially obstructed, and thus not appear very symmetric, but not like the Chinese double-sun.

As Grant Perry is also quoted, this could be a reflection. A double-window can produce similar results:


Above, the Sun at left is just a reflection from the double-window.

But then, as Perry also notes, such reflections would move in relation to the Sun when the camera moved. They would move much less if they were reflections on a double window rather than internal camera lens reflections, but they would move.

Then again, in the very short clips we have seen we can’t be sure if there’s no relative movement at all. So this is still a possibility.

But I’m inclined to think perhaps the double-sun is actually a single, split Sun:


The orange circle is a suggestion of the size of the actual Sun, which may have been obstructed, split in half, by something – thick fog? – giving the illusion of two smaller circles. Lack of focus and compression artfifacts would contribute to form each half into a more round circle, but even on casual inspection it’s clear they are not perfectly round.

It wouldn’t be very hard to test this suggestion: one would just have to check the angular size of the Sun in the video. Our actual Sun measures around half a degree, so if we have two quarter-degree suns, then this is a split sun. If we have two half a degree ones, then this is something else, indeed a “double-sun”.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find more details on the video so we can’t calibrate and make estimates, but I do suspect this could be a split Sun. The tone of the two halves is different, but this could be simply an artifact from the video camera or the atmosphere between the Sun and the camera.

Popularity: 3% [?]


Fear of the Dark


“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” – H.P. Lovecraft

The world is full of unexplained phenomena. Some of them seem unexplainable. And the unknown, the unexplained, the unexplainable, is not only uncomfortable, it’s a reminder of a world full of abysmal dangers which we can’t even imagine. As such, one would expect every conscious being would fear the unknown, the mysterious, as many do fear the dark.

Some of us however, this writer included, love mysteries. There’s a significant market for the unexplained and the occult. Well, there’s a market for horror movies, there’s a market for puzzles. But the fascination with the unknown despite its implicit horror can also be understood in other ways.

One of them is that the fear of the unknown can be fought with the mere illusion of knowledge. One can simply make up and, this is important, believe in an arbitrary explanation for the unexplained to stop being a nuisance, at least to our own minds. Believe those stories, have faith in those explanations,and the fear will be appeased. Is there a strange unexplained light in the sky? Oh, those are Zeta Reticulli spaceships showing off, part of the hybrid program. Or rather just swamp gas, simply ignore them. Either way, those who find and easy and certain answers to everything very probably don’t actually have an answer to everything, they just believe they do. They don’t actually love mysteries, but the explanations they think that answers them.

Mere faith can deal with the fear of the unknown, but it doesn’t actually deal with the issue, it can even aggravate it. It’s not very helpful to lose the fear of the unknown if we keep being as vulnerable and far from understanding the world in which we live. Fighting instead the fear of the unknown with the real light of knowledge is surely the most promising path, and it’s exactly one of the ways of defining that which we call Science. And the trust, one can even say faith in the success of this scientific endeavour is another way by which one can appreciate, and truly love a mystery.

Another great writer, Isaac Asimov, reminded how the most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!‘ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny …‘. Every anomaly, every unexplained event, every UFO and Paranormal case may be the first requirement for a new, and better understanding of the Universe, for greater and better knowledge. The day there would be no unexplained thing left will be the day there will be no knowledge to gain. Science will have exhausted its purpose. We can be reasonably sure this day is still very distant, if it may ever come.

More than a body of knowledge, science is a way to acquire verifiable knowledge, one that not only appeases to our own fears, but those of any and everyone who faces the same phenomenon, be they Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, whether they believe in fairies, unicorns or Santa Claus. For the unknown to be dealt not with arbitrary faith, but with knowledge that can be tested and used.

Believing in a higher plan may offer some comfort amid a smallpox outbreak, but understanding it’s a contagious disease and proving it can be prevented by vaccination offers us real knowledge to appease our fears – and actually eradicate this terrible malady.

Not all scientists will embrace anomalies with excitement. Scientists are human beings attempting to practice science, and they do not always succeed. Even the most accomplished men and women of science will not be making scientific statements at every thing they say. It’s not being a scientist that makes what you do science, it’s making science that makes you a scientist.

Because science, as we emphasize, can be understood as the quest for knowledge that starts with the unknown. If you witnessed an unexplained phenomenon, it can be the first step towards a scientific contribution. Share what you found, in every possible detail, with the largest number od records – photos, videos, samples, witnesses. Some scientist may be interested. This author may be interested. Science and technology nowadays offer us tools to easily share information with a great number of people literally at our fingertips.

Do take into consideration, however, that after more than three centuries fighting the unknown with knowledge, we did find a lot of things out, and it’s very possible that the phenomenon you witnessed may be understood through the things we already know. Things we actually know, tested and apply every day of our highly technological lives. If a scientist sounds arrogant on telling you something can be explained in prosaic terms, think also if you, on rejecting his explanation, will not sound arrogant too, by contradicting not only the opinion of that scientist, but generations of thousands of people honestly trying to understand the unknown, just like you.

Science is more than a body of knowledge, but today it’s also a vast body of tested and verifiable knowledge. Are you really the first to face this phenomenon? Are you the only one to actually understand it? Or do the explanation you believe that answers this mystery seem more attractive than the mystery itself?

You may, after all, be correct. You may on the other hand be wrong, just as a scientist can be wrong, just as whole community of scientists may be wrong. Just as I may be wrong in the many explanations presented here in this not at all authoritative blog, as I actually was wrong in not so few of them.

Above all, what is proper is to fight the fear of the unknown through the search for real explanations that won’t depend on mere faith, that can be demonstrated for us all, believers or not, to better understand another small part of a world full of phenomena to comprehend. For the fear of the unknown to be faced upfront as an opportunity to expand that which is known.

For a mystery to be appreciated by what it is, and not by what we want to believe it is.

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Popularity: 4% [?]


The Louisiana Swamp Monster


Originally aired as coming from Berwick, the quite fascinating image of “something” has already come to light as actually coming from a property in the Antioch Community, Louisiana.

It was originally posted on Dec 2 by “Hillbilly Willi” over at Archery Talk, with the whole background story:

“Very freaky trail cam picture…. dont know what to think..? Don’t know what to think about this one fellers…. Went and checked my camera today and this is what it had on it…. The ground directly in front of my tree was completely tore up, the trail cam had been torn off the tree, straps were popped and everything. Camera was laying face down about 10 ft. from the tree it was attached too. Bark was knocked off the tree where the camera had been, like something had knocked it off while trying to twist camera off the tree. This was the only picture I got of "it" as I had it set on a 2 minute timer. The first picture is of "it", and the second is a picture from a lil while ago of the same spot, just for reference. Checking this right at dusk with a 3/4 mile walk out ahead of you will scare a feller….. When I saw it, my blood ran cold. Still gives me shivers…. What do you guys think??”

The image is a damn fine job, but the story is just terrible. And Hillbilly Willi made the mistake of posting along with it that second picture “just for reference”:


The mistake is on the date: the reference image is supposed to have been taken over a week before the freaky one, and yet, as forum members noted, the leaves in the small tree at left look exactly the same. This is actually evidence that the time lapse between the two images is very small – hours, perhaps even minutes or seconds – and the dates have been altered afterwards to go along with the story.

This is clear when we see three other reference images the same author shared afterwards, dated November 26 and 27, and those do have the leaves in different positions. Apparently on November 30, they returned to the exact same position they were nine days earlier.

Or these dates are simply bogus.


messing with the date on any camera is not per se evidence of hoaxing, but the third image shared by the author is also revealing because it shows him in the scene:


Which allows us to have some idea of scale, and what was the size of that creature if it was indeed real. And if it was indeed real, it wasn’t very big, as it looks almost half the size of “Hillbilly Willi”, with extremely thin arms.


Here too, there is a simple explanation that can be found on somewhat careless digital tampering. The creature is small not only because the author didn’t care very much in having it at the correct scale, but also because he must have used an image of a real deer to create his monster.

The texture, the size, length and width of the creature’s arms and body match those of a real deer, and it was by altering this real image that he got this level of creepiness. The arms were probably legs, and even the glowing eyes were copied and altered from real glowing deer eyes.

I made the comparison below, in the exact same scale, to highlight how the creature’s arms and overall texture matches those of a deer body and legs. In fact, the creature may have been created from another image of that exact same deer, as the leaves in both images suggest the time lapse between the two images — which are indeed two different images as the background is slightly different – is short.


That is, the terrible swamp monster may be simply an altered image of a deer.

But unless the author steps forward with details of the hoax, all we will have will be a story full of holes and a very dubious digital image.

Meanwhile, speculations are going around claiming this is part of a viral campaign either for the “Super 8” movie or “Resistance 3” videogame. The deer cam company, “Wildgame Innovations”, seems to be the profiting a lot from the case too, but none of these have been confirmed as the source for this.

From my part, I think this is just a prank from a hunter who also happens to be a talented graphic artist. He created his account on Archery Talk over a year ago, and posted his image more than a week before someone sent them to the TV station. He also doesn’t seem to capitalize on it for any movie or videogame.

Some have also been associating the image to this infamous 2007 clip:

Much as the “fallen angel” in this video looks like the Louisiana creature, this video was indeed part of a viral campaign, but for Diesel, having certainly nothing to do with this recent picture, except perhaps as an inspiration.

Night vision pictures are somewhat scary, something the Blair Witch project explored more than a decade ago. Even a common child may look somewhat creepy.


An altered image of a deer, then, will not take much to look like a scary monster. Kudos to Hillbilly Willi nevertheless, the image is actually quite fascinating.

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[via Wired Web, Cryptomundo, ArcheryTalk]

Popularity: 11% [?]


Hipster Time Traveller Original Photo Found


Finally, we can definitely answer one of the questions”, wrote us Evgeny Balamutenko on the mystery of the now famous Hipster Time Traveller attending the reopening of South Fork Bridge in 1941.

The photo is 100% REAL. NTV Russian television crew was filming there [last week] at the museum and found the original photo in one of the albums. I held it in my hands.


And to prove it, just check the moment the Russian investigators found the photograph in one of the photo albums at the Bralorne-Pioneer Museum:

A historical moment? Well, for this wonderful story the second most important question has been answered and now we know the photo is there at the museum and is indeed real.

It wasn’t found before because Bralorne is actually a very small community, and the museum was closed during winter time. It’s been only in recent months that this single photo among the whole collection caught the world’s attention, going as far as Russia.

As Balamutenko wrote us, Sally Bird, president of the Bralorne-Pioneer Historical Society, opened their doors for the TV crew, and there they finally found the photo among the many items and exhibits.

The most important question however is still unanswered. Who was this guy?

He could be “a hockey player or a holiday-maker. I found a couple of photos of similar-looking guys in the archives of the Bralorne Museum”, tells Balamutenko. In the very same virtual exhibit, for instance, one can find this other photo from the Bralorne Mines:


Protective glasses and a thick glove used only in one hand. Just as our Time Traveller?

On the ongoing investigation, the NTV crew also spoke to Norm Gronskey, a local historian. “He seems to be the only living witness of the event. He was 11 at that time, and he could not remember anything strange on that day. But he may have been out of the main crowd, or his memory might easily fail him. He said that the outfit was not strange for that time, this kind of sunglasses, photo camera, etc. were not that unusual for those days.Our original post was all about it, nothing unusual for those days.

The crew even found a possible name: Edward Russel.

In the Lilloet news archives we found a short article (just a week before the reopening of the bridge), that read: ‘Visiting his uncle and aunt, L.A.C. Edward Russel came to stay his leave with the Creamers. Two and a half years has he put in with the RCAF and his duties are navigating. L.A.C. Russel stands 6′ 4-1/2" and expects to become a pilot officer when they make cockpits larger." This guy came from UK, this year they were given this kind of glasses (as part of the uniform).

The height and the glasses would be a match, but still, no confirmation. People had suggested the man could also be Albert Wihksne, who lived in the region and who had another photo of the reopening of the bridge. But his son John doesn’t think he was the hipster we are looking for.

Of course, he could still be a time traveller. “I would certainly not exclude that”, considers Balamutenko. Indeed it’s still a possibility, especially now that the original photo has been located.

A very remote possibility, but a fascinating one – and until we positively identify the hipster, he could be a miner, a visitor, an aviator… or a time traveller.

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[With great thanks to Evgeny Balamutenko and congratulations to the whole NTV crew for the find]

Popularity: 8% [?]