‘Earthquake Lightning’ re-created in lab

Earthquake lightning: Mysterious luminescence phenomena


Were you aware that earthquakes are sometimes associated with luminescence, called earthquake lightning? This phenomenon had been documented throughout history, such as between 1965 and 1967, the Matsushiro earthquake swarm caused the surrounding mountain to flicker with light multiple times. In 1993 when an earthquake caused a tsunami off the coast in Southwest Hokkaido which caused 5 boats resting at shore to instantly ignite and burn.

Various models have been proposed to explain earthquake lightnings, and it seems as though various factors contribute to such light emissions. Professor Emeritus Yuji Enomoto of Shinshu University, first author of the study Laboratory investigation of earthquake lightning due to landslide does not think these incidents can be explained in a unified way using a single model.

Therefore, the study focused on luminescence phenomenon caused by landslides. The team picked out various types of rock that form mountains representative of land across Japan; granite, pyroclastic rocks, rhyolite, limestone and serpentinite. What he found was that different rocks have different reasons for luminescence and some rocks such as serpentinite does not emit light at all.

Granite is known to exhibit remarkable photoemission due to the piezo-induced effect of the quartz within. There have been witness accounts of earthquake lightning in areas without granite. The researchers looked at descriptions of earthquake lightning in the Japan Historical Earthquake Archives. At least 5 of the 55 accounts of earthquake lightnings were due to landslides since 869 A.D.

You can probably imagine how light can be emitted when rocks collide violently. However, the luminescence of rocks is instantaneous and faint. For this reason, ultra-sensitive, high-speed, high resolution cameras and spectroscopes were required for the study. Fortunately, excellent cameras with an ISO sensitivity of 25,600 was available in the market at relatively low prices. For ultra-sensitive spectrum analysis, a device suitable for the purpose was commercially available but too expensive. Fortunately, the research team was able to borrow one from Konica Minolta, and the difficulty of continuing research was solved. Please view the attached video to see the method of the experiment, and different visual observations of the types of light emitted.

Luminescence due to rock impact. CREDIT
Yuji Enomoto, Faculty of Textile Science and Engineering, Shinshu University

There are many cases in which electromagnetic anomalies associated with earthquakes have been documented while the cause remains a mystery. Even though it is a rare phenomenon, Professor Emeritus Enomoto feels an obligation as a Geo-tribologist to elucidate such phenomena. He hopes understanding such phenomena will lead to the advancement of earthquake prediction and promote active disaster prevention.

During the 2011 magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake, the number of electrons in the ionosphere suddenly increased above the epicenter of the earthquake about 10 minutes after the earthquake struck. Professor Emeritus Enomoto has studied this incident and proposed the lithosphere-hydrosphere-atmosphere-ionosphere coupling model in terms of current generation of charged mists. He is currently working to elucidate why in 1995, during the Hyogo-ken Nanbu Earthquake, the sky in the West which ordinarily remains dark became brighter than usual, and the color changed from bluish purple, white, then red. This is a difficult task. Professor Enomoto hopes to put together a research-outreach book that explains these incidents so that they can be understood by a wider audience.


The paper: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s40623-020-01237-8

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Pat from Kerbob
September 30, 2020 3:30 pm


Bemused Bill
September 30, 2020 3:36 pm

Oh look, a new source of power and lighting for the looniest of States…CA has plenty of earthquakes and so can rely on this rather than dirty carbon.

Another Paul
Reply to  Bemused Bill
September 30, 2020 3:43 pm

I’d rather they try to harness lightning. I have a spare key if someone would like to donate a kite?

Alastair Brickell
Reply to  Another Paul
September 30, 2020 4:02 pm

Another Paul
September 30, 2020 at 3:43 pm

Sorry, only have electronic keys these days…but I can help with string or (even better) thin copper wire…

September 30, 2020 3:39 pm

We had a good display of this lightning associated with the 7.5-magnitude Kaikoura earthquake https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/86420960/earthquake-strange-glowing-in-the-sky-possibly-earthquake-lightning.

I’m a reliable witness for any doubters!

Reply to  HAS
October 1, 2020 12:25 pm

I saw it too… as I was hanging on to the doorway hoping the ground would stop moving under me. I just assumed it was power transformer shorting out.

September 30, 2020 3:50 pm

Let there be light!

September 30, 2020 3:54 pm

Joe Biden last night said he does not support the Green New Deal, while his web site says even now the he does support it. Therefore he lied in the debate. And Kamala Harris, President-In-Waiting, sponsored the GND. Just sayin’ …

Reply to  bribrians356
October 1, 2020 8:11 am

He also refuses to declare whether he supports packing the court or not. Declaring that answering that question would be to fall into Trump’s trap and spend time talking about what Trump wants to talk about.

Meanwhile, reporters keep asking the question Biden doesn’t want to talk about.

My guess is that telling the truth would offend most voters. What confuses me is that since Biden has already proven that he is willing to lie, why not just give the politically correct answer and move on.

Progressives don’t mind having the politicians they support lie. After all, all that matters is getting elected.

September 30, 2020 3:54 pm

” caused 5 boats resting at shore to instantly ignite and burn. ”

Rock luminescence seems a very unlikely explanation for boats to spontaneously combust.

Reply to  AndyHce
September 30, 2020 3:57 pm

Guess they’ve had Fake News a long time in Japan. But we knew that from WW II.

Reply to  AndyHce
September 30, 2020 4:12 pm

I agree. The tsunami would, likely, not aid combustion.

But might this be an artefact of translation?


Reply to  AndyHce
October 2, 2020 9:00 am

What about striking a flint?

Joel O'Bryan
September 30, 2020 5:00 pm

The pushbutton igniter on my patio gas grill would support this startling conclusion.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
October 1, 2020 10:25 am

Yup. I remember them in surplus-science catalogs before the internet — now you can buy “sparky” rocks online.:

Clyde Spencer
September 30, 2020 5:01 pm

One time I was camping at a pegmatite quarry in New Hampshire. I had been walking around at night with my UV light looking for fluorescent minerals. I accidentally kicked a quartz cobble with my foot, and as it bounced down the dump, flashed a bright green every time it bounced.

Another time I was pushing the daylight hours for collecting in a marble quarry in Vermont. I noticed that when I hit a rock with my hammer, there appeared to be sparks flying off the rock. I later discovered that the pink marble was triboluminescent and just scratching it with a piece of steel or another rock would leave a red-light trace at the point of contact.

I would expect that either of these rocks would likely give off light if they experienced a strong earthquake. At the very least, any landslides would result in flashes as the rocks hit each other.

Ron Long
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
September 30, 2020 6:42 pm

Clyde, I several times walked around at night, with a UV light, trying to find scheelite and powellite. Found some, but the amazing find was scorpions, which glowed quite brightly.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Ron Long
September 30, 2020 9:21 pm

I was crawling on my hands and knees at the Benitoite gem mine with UV light in hand and started to reach reflexively for something glowing brightly, and then stopped midway when it moved! I realized it was a scorpion!

Another time I was lamping a bunch of rocks in the White Mountains (Calif.). I put the light down to pick up another sample. I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. Something was snatching moths out of mid-air, which were attracted to the light. I later identified the critter as something called a sun spider. It was fast!

Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  Ron Long
October 1, 2020 8:52 pm

Here is a scorpion I took under a Mineralite UV lamp back in the 1960s. The mineral at the back is fluorite.

There is some terminological inexactitude in comments here. There are differences in the physics of phosphorescence, luminescence, fluorescence. In this scorpion case we are seeing UV light inducing visible fluorescence. There are other forms of excitation that one needs to understand to appreciate the science behind the head post. Geoff S

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
October 1, 2020 1:38 am

The green flash from quartz is particularly interesting because unexpected. The rubbing or fracturing producing triboluminescence has as an intermediate mechanism: an electrical discharge from the separation of charges and this will produce luminescence in air , and also generate UV and high energy electrons . The latter two can excite the natural luminescence of the mineral or rock being shocked. Green luminescence is strongest from specific impurities in the mineral , or defect centres produced by the impurities . Green emission suggests Mn2+ in a tetrahedral coordination (eg willemite the classic example) or the uranyl ion , (UO2) 2+ , but the most likely impurity in the quartz cobbles are Li+ or Na+ . Mostly these give rise to blue or red emission , but in a paper by Gotz;
it is mentioned that quartz associated with pegmatite has an emission at 500nm (blue green) under cathodoluminescence (electron excitation) and you say that the quartz you disturbed was in a pegmatite quarry .

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  mikewaite
October 1, 2020 8:58 am

It was the Palermo quarry in New Hampshire, which has lots of sodium and lithium. However, it is known for its radioactive minerals. That was why I was lamping. As I recollect, (I no longer have any specimens) the green was typical of uranyl ion stimulation with SW UV light of basalt amygdules composed of chalcedony, commonly found in the US desert SW.

September 30, 2020 5:56 pm

Piezo lightning or earth lights, or whatever you want to call them, happen everywhere if the materials and conditions are right. They are not something new, but very early people may have seen them as some sort of magical phenomenon.
They seem to happen in many places in England, the USA and anywhere there is seismic activity. Paul Devereux documented many examples of them, with the aim of finding a correlation to ancient legends and mythology. He published “Earth Lights” and “Earth Lights Revelation” during his research.

Reply to  Sara
September 30, 2020 11:08 pm

My aunt was ‘struck’ by ball lightning twice in the 70’s (on two different occasions) in her own basement. She was in the basement because there was a rip roaring thunder storm going on outside and took refuge in the basement as she was terrified of thunder storms. She described it as a glowing roundish ball the size of a softball that randomly wandered around for less than a minute and was slightly touched by it which sent her into shock with slight burns the first time. The second time was similar and after that she had a heart arrhythmia that sent her to her grave at a ripe old age many years later. The basement was poured concrete on clay close to shield granite, but not in an earthquake zone. But extremely intense thunderstorms both times. She and my uncle were as honest as the day is long, so no one doubted her. But it does make me wonder if there is more going on than we understand.

Geoff Sherrington
September 30, 2020 6:09 pm

Sheldon Breiner, then of airborne survey group Geometrics, told me in 1976 or so of his Ph.D. studies of piezo electric effects and quakes around the San Andreas fault sth of San Francisco. I would rely on scientific measurements like his rather than centuries old anecdotals from uneducated Chinese peasants.
The problem is that climate reasearch is steadily degrading to the methods and standards of those peasants. Geoff S

Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
October 1, 2020 1:27 am

Don’t slag off ancient Chinese chroniclers and historians! Those guys left remarkably accurate and comprehensive weather records which show that the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age extended to China.

Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
October 1, 2020 8:15 am

Unless one has a degree that you approve of, their observations must be ignored.

Ron Long
September 30, 2020 6:39 pm

I had to look up Geo-tribologist, and sure enough I am only a garden variety geologist. Quartz has a well known piezoelectric effect and it seems like it might be a participant in this earthquake lightning effect. Learn something new every day here at WATTS. Cheers.

Nick Graves
October 1, 2020 12:50 am

Very interesting stuff.

It’s got me thinking – I’ve had impressive sparks whilst hammering a nail into a particularly recalcitrant breeze (cinder) block – and it’s not been a lighting cable. I’d presumed it was burning iron filings, but wonder now if it was piezo-electric effect?

October 1, 2020 4:39 am

I saw a “UFO” when I was 6yo. It was around the same time and same place as a moderate earthquake in my area (The Meckering quake of Western Australia). It looked like a classic “min-min” light – white light, with hints of yellow and red, above the horizon, but not by much. Totally silent. I had heard of these quake lightning events in the 1990s, and I am pretty sure that is what I saw. Maybe that is what all min-min lights are?

Svend Ferdinandsen
October 1, 2020 2:05 pm

I have heard of a spot in Norway where it should happen very often. Sometimes it is perceived as UFO’s.

October 1, 2020 3:11 pm

Uzi Nitsan discovered back in the seventies that when quartzite is crushed in a press RF is generated. He was listening to the radio when he noticed that right before the sample fractured there was noise in the radio.


Gary Pearse
October 1, 2020 5:13 pm


I once owned and operated a dolomite marble quarry near Renfrew in Eastern Ontario. When you struck the stone with a hammer, a fairly strong pink glow was emitted from it. The glow lingered a second or two after the blow. I had thought it must be electrons knocked into an adjacent orbital temporarily. A dozer clanking over the outcrop put on a display, too

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