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Mysterious and strange lights preceded the disaster

Mysterious and strange lights preceded the disaster

Mysterious lights were seen in Morocco ahead of last week’s devastating earthquake. Right now, scientists don’t know exactly what causes it, but this certainly isn’t the first time they’ve seen something similar. So-called earthquake lights have appeared before major natural disasters for centuries. We present possible explanations.

On Friday, September 8, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake shook the High Atlas Mountains in eastern Morocco. At least 2,900 people were killed and about 5,500 injured.

Unusual lights appeared in the sky ahead of the natural disaster, according to reports on social media. As usual, many people suspected the existence of UFOs, but that would be an overly simplistic explanation for this strange anomaly.

It is difficult to verify the information, however, unusual optical phenomena are not rare during major earthquakes.

Science calls these seismic lights.

However, it is not possible to know more about this phenomenon, and therefore also what its relationship to Earth movements is. There are quite a few theories, and if we can finally find a link between optical phenomena and strong seismic activity, it will be possible to predict devastating earthquakes.

This was not the first time they had seen the lights before the earthquake

Many historical and contemporary observations and reports have been written about earthquake lights, but we know very little about them. For a long time, the scientific public doubted its validity, but as the demand for earthquake predictability increased, researchers began to deal with it more and more. In the 1960s, the first real observations of seismic light were made in Japan, and at that time the first real photographs were taken. But today, there is no consensus on how and why it appears.

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Light of the earthquake seen in Japan in 1960Source: M. Kuribayashi/Courtesy of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America

However, with the development of security cameras and cell phones, more and more earthquake lights are captured. For example, one camera recorded mysterious flashes of light before the 2021 Mexico City earthquake, but light phenomena were also observed over eastern Japan before the 2022 earthquake.

The appearance of earthquake lights is so different, the variety is almost confusing. We find in the reports quick flashes, a more constant, diffuse glow, moving clouds of light, a faint glow or glare that turns the night sky into day, glowing balls, lights resembling flames rising from the ground, bluish. White or red in color. According to reports, some of them are silent, and in other cases they are accompanied by a hissing and crackling sound.

Seismic lights have been seen in the immediate vicinity of the epicenter, and even hundreds of kilometers away, in the days and hours before, during, and after the earthquake. In addition to earthquakes, optical phenomena have also been described from landslide sites associated with larger landslides that are completely independent of earthquakes.

This diversity also contributes to the fact that there is currently no unified theory of seismic light formation. Initially, the ignition of underground gases due to heat generated by the friction of stones was discussed. Later, researchers suspected some kind of electrical phenomenon, but rocks are poor electrical conductors.

However, the latter theory is likely close to the truth.

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Kobe earthquake lights: first automated detection

In recent years, electrical and magnetic measurements have also helped researchers. For example, for the 1995 magnitude 7.2 earthquake near Kobe, Japan, measurement data were already available and showed a small deviation in the geomagnetic and atmospheric electricity data at measurement stations relatively far from the epicenter before the earthquake occurred.

1995 Kobe earthquakeSource: Wikimedia Commons

Regarding this earthquake, many eyewitnesses reported the appearance of strange lights a few tens of kilometers from the epicenter. These observations were of a moving mass of light, followed by a lightning-like flash. The movement of the incandescent mass was later modeled based on the consensus description of eyewitnesses at various locations, and was shown to be in the same direction as the fault line responsible for the earthquake. The light started from the sea (the earthquake occurred under the sea), then moved toward the mountain behind Kobe City, and died like lightning when it struck the mountain. At this time, the nearby lightning detectors also indicated a very weak electrical signal indicating lightning, and the distant detectors no longer detected it, so it must be a local electrical phenomenon. Weather origin has been excluded.

This was the first case in which the light phenomenon seen at the time of the earthquake could also be detected using instruments, and what eyewitnesses saw gave information consistent with the measurement.

If you’re wondering what the actual interpretation of earthquake light is, skip to the next page!

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