Those “green UFOs” that caused a stir in Australia four years ago? Researchers say they definitely weren’t alien spaceships (not like they were going to say anything different), but they still aren’t sure what they actually were.
The three green fireballs were spotted by more than 100 people in the sky over Queensland, Australia on May 16th, 2006. The potential abductees said the lights were brighter than the moon, but not as bright as the sun. A single farmer claims to have seen one of the green balls bouncing down the side of a mountain after hitting the earth.
Stephen Hughes, a researcher at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, has just published a paper on the phenomenon in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A. He explained to LiveScience that the main fireballs were most likely caused by a meteor breaking up and burning in earth’s atmosphere:
In fact, a commercial airline pilot who landed in New Zealand that day reported seeing a meteor breaking up into fragments, which turned green as the bits descended in the direction of Australia. The timing of the fireballs suggests they might have been debris from Comet 73P/Schwassmann–Wachmann 3.
If lightning strikes nearby, you might be in for some incredible hallucinations that resemble what is known as “ball lightning,” according to a pair of scientists from the University of Innsbruck in Austria.
In the lab, test subjects can experience these visions of shining spheres and lines when they undergo transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, which use huge superconducting magnets create electric fields in the brain up to 0.5 Tesla. (That’s a lot; a plain-old bar magnet is only around .01 T.)
According to Technology Review:
“If this happens in the lab, then why not in the real world too, say [researchers] Joseph Peer and Alexander Kendl… They calculate that the rapidly changing fields associated with repeated lightning strikes are powerful enough to cause a similar phenomenon in humans within 200 metres.”
So when lightning strikes nearby, it can induce fields similar to the ones created by transcranial stimulation. That means you could experience luminous lines and spheres, just like subjects do in the lab.
“As a conservative estimate, roughly 1% of (otherwise unharmed) close lightning experiencers are likely to perceive transcranially induced above-threshold cortical stimuli,” say Peer and Kendl. They add that these observers need not be outside but could be otherwise safely inside buildings or even sitting in aircraft.”
That makes us wonder when else naturally occurring electric or magnetic fields might be strong enough to create hallucinations. Far out.
Image: flickr / knapp
If you’re not feeling lucky, don’t venture into Wyoming, Utah, or Colorado. These states have some of the highest mortality rates caused by natural disasters, according to a new “death map” that plots where Mother Nature takes her heaviest tolls.
From 1970 to 2004, natural disasters killed some 20,000 people in the U.S. Surprisingly, the deadliest events aren’t the ones that make the headlines. More people died from heat/drought (19.6 percent), sizzling summers (18.8 percent), and freezing winters (18.1 percent) than earthquakes, wildfire, and hurricanes combined (less than 5 percent). And who would’ve thought that lightning accounted for 11.3 percent of deaths from natural hazards? The strikes were especially concentrated in the New England and southeastern states.
I think it’s reasonable to assume that ever since the dawn of humankind, people have yearned to control lightning. (No, Halle Berry did not create this idea for her role in X-Men.) The first approach—rain dances, spells, and the like—proved marginally effective, at best, but there wasn’t much of an alternative. In the ’70s, scientists found out that if they launched rockets carrying long metal wires into thunderstorms, the wires would sometimes provide enough conductance to coax a lightning strike, much like Ben Franklin’s (probably apocryphal) kite string. But around the same time, they also thought it would be much, much cooler to use a laser to bring about lightning. Most things are cooler when accomplished by lasers, as any scientist can tell you.
A group of European researchers working at South Baldy Peak have finally realized this longstanding goal by successfully bringing about lightning by zapping lasers into thunderclouds in a recent experiment. The ultrashort laser bursts (only around a hundred femtoseconds) ionize some of the molecules in the air, forming a plasma, and these channels of plasma act can guide lightning strikes like the wires on a rocket. Read More