Friday, September 8, 2017

8.1 Earthquake Strikes Mexico: Produces Mysterious Bright Flashes Of Light

A magnitude 8.1 earthquake that recently struck Mexico triggered strange flashes of bright light that spilled across Mexico. These green and blue flashes of light are an unusual phenomenon associated with large earthquakes.
Earthquake lights have been reported many times in the past with explanations related to tectonic stresses and seismic activity. However, there is also reason to believe that in some of these instances it is simply a power supply being destroyed. Often times it's difficult to determine the exact sources of these lights, as is the case recently in Mexico

The recent Mexico earthquake resulted in videos of blue and green flashes emanating from around Mexico. The flashes appear similar to lightning and could result from massive releases of energy from the ground as a result of an earthquake. Alternatively, it could be due to major electric system explosions. Both are possible, but it's hard to pinpoint which was the cause for the earthquake that just hit Mexico.
We know of lights reported before or after earthquakes in many instances in the past. For example in 1975 the Kalapana earthquake was reported to produce auroras with a white and blue hue. More recently, the phenomenon was caught on camera during the 2007 Peru earthquake. One thing all of these earthquakes have in common is that they're commonly large in magnitude (>5). Studies have found the generation of lights as a result of earthquakes could be due to the ionization of oxygen to oxygen anions. Once this ionization occurs, the ions can travel through the rocks through small cracks and fissures until they reach the atmosphere forming plasma light.
An alternative study points to an intense electric field caused by the movement of rocks containing quartz minerals. Another study found that when two rocks rub against one another than are separated, there is a positive voltage spike that could, on a large scale, produce earthquake lights.
The recent earthquake to hit Mexico was the most powerful in many decades and triggered several magnitude 5 and greater aftershocks. While the phenomenon of earthquake light remains mysterious it proves to be a consistent reminder of the tremendous amount of energy that is released during these large earthquakes.
We commonly associate earthquake severity to loss of life and infrastructure damage. This is another way to quantify just how much energy is involved in the 8.1 magnitude earthquake that recently hit Mexico.
Trevor Nace is a geologist, Forbes contributor, founder of Science Trends, and adventurer. Follow his journey @trevornace. Contact Trevor at trevornace[at]

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