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Italian Earthquake Lights

Here’s an interesting recent paper on an often disputed phenomenon – “The earthquake lights (EQL) of the 6 April 2009 Aquila earthquake, in Central Italy“. Face-to-face surveys with over 1000 people in the wake of the Aquila earthquake turned up a large number of reports of EQL-like sightings…although the paper also showed the difficulty in establishing which of those reports were EQL, rather than more mundane explanations:

Many people reported seeing peculiar sightings of light glows, flashes, lightning, flames and fireballs, all of which were considered candidates for EQL. Three eyewitness reported observing high flames which were later identified as explosions of gas cylinders. Tens of sightings were reported as being particularly luminous points in the sky which, through their collected positions, revealed utilising astronomical software to be the planet Venus. The meteorological situation was also taken into consideration for Aquila so as to discard luminous events of a meteorological nature. Some of such events were observed above the mountains around Aquila and may have originated behind them. For this motif, time and direction of such lightning and the meteorological conditions in Central Italy were also compared. Several atmospheric lights were associated with thunder-storms.

Roughly one hundred sightings were linked with natural phenomena such as sunsets, moon halos and fog illuminations. For example, many witnesses reported seeing a strange moon light which appeared red and was surrounded by a small red halo. This phenomenon was observed at nearly all the locations, from Amatrice to San Pio delle Camere. In this study this phenomenon was considered to be atmospheric. Additionally, eyewitnesses reported observing the breakdown of electrical lines. Many flashes were also compatible with relatively small discharges coming from the ground during the main shock. Being so, the flashes could have been short circuits, given that the area in and around Aquila is highly urbanised. All of these sightings which were identified as being of a natural or anthropogenic source, were excluded from the collection of luminous phenomena.

Nevertheless, after removing the bogus sightings, some 241 reports remained which were suggestive of an EQL phenomenon – including luminous clouds and vapours, aurora-like ‘streamers’, electrical discharges, columns of fire, and luminous funnels. The conclusion of the report is interesting in its practicality:

Luminous events were observed before the main shock without the ground shaking and were very similar to those reported about two centuries ago. Given this, they could be considered premonitory phenomena…the experience of Carlo Strinella, who had knowledge of EQL, [and who] took measures to protect his family after interpreting some flashes he had sighted before the main shock…suggests that educating the general population about EQL phenomena could help save lives.

For some more interesting reading on the topic, make sure you check out Geoff Falla’s Darklore 3 article “Shaking Stars” (available as a free PDF sample on the Darklore website). Thanks to Rick for the heads-up.

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