There is a phenomenon known as “Fire in the Sky” that sailors have seen for centuries as they sail the seas. It is an illuminating atmospheric brush-like electricity that travels down the mast and beam of ships. It makes a crackling sound as the corona of light travels around the ship. Throughout the centuries, many superstitious people tried to explain the unknown display of blue light that traveled throughout their sailing ship. The Romans believe the display was a visit from some of their gods. The Italian sailors, who traversed the Mediterranean Sea, thought the fire was from Saint Erasmus, who was protecting the sailors. Throughout the years the name became shortened to St. Elmo’s Fire. Many battling enemies thought it was a message from God. What causes this display? Scientists did not discover this until 1879. Before I describe how and what causes this electrical phenomenon, let us take a peek into the world of physics. Trust me, it is fascinating. In science class we were taught about three states of matter, which were usually illustrated with an ice cube. You have a solid state which is the whole ice cube, a liquid state when the ice cube melts, and gas when the liquid from the ice cube evaporates. But there is a fourth state of matter called the plasma state. This is composed of electrically charged gas, so you enter the realm of magnetic and electrical fields. These fields are heated to such a degree that the electron escapes the atom and becomes a plasma. Okay, got that? Do not worry, I will not test you. Just information to explain how the fire works and radiates coronal light around objects. They have even found that airplanes in the air have also displayed this type of plasma – it has happened around violent volcanic eruptions and the closeness of the air space the plane travels through. Okay, now you are thinking, “What is the difference between St. Elmo’s Fire and lightning?” Well, St. Elmo’s Fire is sporadic emissions of electrons into the air, which clings to pointed structures like a steeple, a ship’s mast, or wings of an airplane. Lighting is a group of highly charged electrons that start to move when warm and cold air masses come together, polarizing the atmosphere. This electricity is grounded either from cloud to earth or cloud to cloud. It can be a deadly charge. We are still learning about nature and science, and we do not have all the answers to all the different phenomena. It is such a fascinating time to be alive. We think we know so much, but in reality, we know very little.
SharLeigh has an inquisitive nature – she is interested in current events, history, science and many more subjects, including things that go bump in the night! Since 1997, SharLeigh has scoured the internet, looking for interesting, fun and timely topics covering all sorts of human-interest subjects for her articles from her home in Fontana, CA.