Thursday, July 4, 2013

Top 10 Natural Firework Displays!

Mount Shinmoedake, Photo credit: Reuters

Happy fourth of July! In light of today's holiday, I thought it might be fitting to celebrate a few of mother Earth's natural light shows. Ranging from bioluminescent waters to incredible lightning displays, there's quite a lot to take in. How many have you seen?

10. Auroras

Resulting from interactions between the Earth's magnetic field and charged particles in the atmosphere, auroras offer an unreal experience. The lights are visible at high latitudes in both hemispheres. They are known as the aurora borealis, or northern lights, in the northern hemisphere and the aurora australis in the southern atmosphere. 

The lights are usually depicted in time lapse video. 

Here's another clip in real time. 

9. Synchronous Fireflies

P. pyralis, Photo credit: Gail Shumway / Getty Images

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Allegheny National Forest, visitors can witness synchronous bioluminescent displays by specific species of resident firefly (Photinus carolinus). The spectacle peaks in early summer, from May to June, depending on the weather. Similar synchronous lights can be seen in parts of Malaysia. 

8. Lightning

Photo credit: Birdie Guy
Photo credit:

Lightning occurs as a result of electrostatic discharge between unequally charged regions within clouds or between clouds and the Earth's surface. Check out these cool storms:

In recent years, scientists have also become aware of a variety of other electrical discharges that are rarely seen. Author Wal Thornhill explains what is known about these at

Photo credit:

7. Meteor Showers

Small pieces of comets and asteroids are called meteoroids and are referred to as meteors after entering the Earth's atmosphere. In the northern hemisphere, the Perseid meteor shower is one of the most spectacular. It's most visible on August 10th and 11th. 

6. Glow Worms

Glow worm cave in New Zealand, Photo credit: forevergone / reddit

Many people are familiar with the glow worm caves in New Zealand and Australia. The "worms" are are actually several species of cave-dwelling fly larvae. The larvae glow in order to attract prey that they capture in sticky threads they hang from the ceiling. There are also glow worms in the United States. Also a type fly larvae, the "worms" are called dismalities and are found in stream banks and caves around the Appalachian Mountains. The larvae luminesce using a unique chemical reaction and display the bluest light of any bioluminescent insect. You can read more about them here.

5. Fire Rainbows

Circumhorizontal arc Ravenna,
Michigan, Wikipedia

Also known as circumhorizontal arcs, or CHAs, fire rainbows are an optical phenomenon that occurs when light from a particular angle passes through clouds made up of a particular type of ice crystal. I probably wouldn't believe this was real if I hadn't witnessed this myself in Ramona, California in 2003.

In some circles, the lights are referred to as "earthquake light(s)" and are attributed to disturbances of magnetic or electric fields as a result of tectonic movement. While it seems to be a legitimate phenomenon, scientific descriptions of earthquake light is much different than those of circumhorizontal arcs, so the association of fire rainbows with earthquakes is most likely to coincidence. 

Earthquake light, Photo credit: Karl V. Steinbrugge / UC Berkeley

4. Volcanoes

Photo credit: Skarphedinn Thrainsson
I don't think I could make this list without including volcanoes. Have you ever seen one?

3. Glowing Jellyfish

Bioluminescent jellyfish, Photo credit: Viola

These deep water jellyfish washed up in Toyama Bay, Japan. The Firefly squid is another bioluminescent sea creature often observed in the region. 

Photo credit: Andrea Echeverria / Wikipedia

2. Bioluminescent Water

Pyrodinium, Photo credit: Joe Scott
These tiny dinoflagelates are a type of protist, many genera of which are able to bioluminesce. They are often associated with algal blooms and are responsible for the glowing water or "blue tides" that are often associated with them.

Some of the most famous places to observe bioluminescent waters are Bio or Mosquito Bay in Puerto Rico, some places in Jamaica, and the Gippsland Lakes in Australia. Sometimes bioluminescent displays can also be observed along shorelines, including in San Diego.

1. Volcano Lightning

Mount Shinmoedake, Photo credit: Reuters

If you didn't think lightning or volcanoes were cool enough by themselves, what about combined the two? Although rarely captured on video, here is a clip from a 2012 eruption in Japan...

Scientists aren't sure exactly why lightning occurs during volcanic eruptions, but there seems to be several types. You can read more about how it works here.

Photo credit:

Photo credit: Carlos Gutierrez
Photo credit: Carlos Gutierrez
Photo credit: Martin Rietze

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