Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for the 'Science' Category

A New Natural Phenomenon: Crown Flash

Last month I wrote about Bill Beaty’s “Leaping Sundogs”, with a couple of fascinating videos recording the dancing streamers of light.

Now, new hi-def videos have just been published on Youtube. User “abrigatti” wrote:

“I was pool side in my apartment in Singapore, when I saw something weird in the skies. As I looked over head I saw some weird cloud shoots of light and puff as the clouds seemed to reform sporadically. I could see that a storm cloud was building, but the light and visual show was intriguing me. So I grabbed my iPhone and recorded this.”

Recorded on August 14th, abrigatti also posted a second video:

Beaty had already updated his page with new speculations, and meanwhile, I also received comments from fellows Martin Shough and Wim Van Utrecht.

Shough notes that Beaty’s suggestion of ice crystals re-alignment due to electrical storms was considered during a 1999 conference on sprites, as it seems the phenomenon may have been observed by satellites! And there’s more…

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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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A Real Lightning Fight

Tesla would be proud, as a century later this is a twist on the demonstrations he himself performed with his Tesla coils.

Tesla coils above which the two fellows with full conductive suits stand just to shoot lightning from their heads and hand. Science guarantees the electric current will pass through the fine metallic suit, and not the body of the brave electric guys, though in reality loose connections may tingle, or a little more than tingle. The Lords of Lightningfeel little tingles to thumping shocks inside the suit”, not to mention some ozone that must be produced.

And for what? Because this is amazingly awesome. [via New Scientist]

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Sagan’s Spaceship of the Imagination in Battle!


Lovely work from Ninjerktsu, click for the full comic, complete with apple pies.

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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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