Forget UFOs, the earth we live on has plenty of natural phenomena that are much stranger than mere flying saucers. Many of these phenomena have yet to be explained by science, either because they are genuine mysteries or because they occur so rarely that they are impossible to study.

Luminous Phenomena

Strange lights in the sky come in many varieties. The aurora borealis is, of course, a known phenomena, but there are many unknown, unexplained variants. In 1903, residents of upstate New York were treated to a luminous "bow" in the sky of about the same apparent size as the Milky Way. Light pillars have been reported, as have other shapes, such as parallel bands.

All sorts of other glowing shapes have been seen, not necessarily related to the auroras. Glowing discs near the horizon after sunset have been reported many times and glowing patches of sky (more often reported before the advent of street lights) are known to sometimes precede thunderstorms. The entire sky has been known to flash, as if a giant flashbulb had been set off in outer space. One such incident was reported by Smithsonian-affiliated astronomers in India in June of 1970 and another in Alaska in May of 1972.

Lightning, of course, is a well-known phenomena, but it comes in many unknown flavors as well. Ball lightning is not unusual, but not very well understood. Even less known are: ball lightning with projecting rays, "ball" lightning that is really rod-shaped, tiny balls only a centimeter across, ribbon shaped "ball" lightning, and ball lightning that materializes inside of closed buildings. Lightning has also been observed (in Hereford, England, in 1873) to travel horizontally for as much as five miles before striking the ground.

Other types of lightning might be better described as slow, luminous discharges of electricity. St. Elmo's fire is a well known example of this type of phenomena. The "Andes glow" is an effect where sheets of electric flame and rays of light radiate from tall mountain peaks. Tornados and volcanos can both display unusual balls or shafts of light. There are also upward discharges from the sand in some deserts and vertical shafts of light that can precede earthquakes.

There are many luminous phenomena associated with meteors as well. The Tunguska event in 1908, in Russia, was seen as a glow in the sky more than a thousand kilometers away. Formations of meteors have been reported, as have meteors with irregular courses and "lazy" meteors that seem to move very slowly through the atmosphere.

Luminous phenomena aren't restricted to the sky, either. The sea has its own bizarre effects, such as bands of phosphorescence that lead or follow ships, rotating wheels of phosphorescence, zig-zag sheets of phosphorescence and light apparently coming from deep underwater. At least some of these are known to be the result of radar (since they stopped when the radar was shut off), but their exact nature is still a mystery.

Optical and Electromagnetic Effects

These phenomena are slightly different, since they don't glow on their own, but instead reflect light. Halos around the moon are commonplace, but odd arcs, horizontal bands, offset halos and cones of light seeming to beam out from the moon are not. The "sundog" or mock sun has been observed on many occasions. One was observed by several passengers aboard the motorship Fairstar in the Sea of Timor on June 15, 1965: "About 10 minutes before sunset, Mrs. N.S. noticed to her surprise a second sun, much less bright than the real one, somewhat to the left, but at the same height above the horizon."

The sun has been known to act as a kaleidoscope, giving off rays that changed from yellow to red and then to many other colors. On other occasions people have seen the sun apparently break up into many different colored balls. The "glory" is a well-known phenomena where observers on a misty day will see a halo or a full rainbow hanging in the air on the opposite side of themselves from the sun, even multiple rainbows if multiple people are present.

Rainbows have been reported in many shapes including intersecting arcs, discs, unusual colors or ordering of colors, horizontal, monochrome and "moon bows". Rainbows have also appeared that seemed to connect separate clouds. All-white rainbows have also been observed.

The moon can take on many looks. The full moon can appear, when low on the horizon, to have distinct "horns" that point up from the horizon. Sometimes, a thin crescent moon can be refracted in the atmosphere and appear as two or even three parallel crescents. Flashes of colored light are sometimes seen between the moon and the ocean as it rises or sets.

Mirages are commonplace, but there are variations that aren't. Very distant objects, such as islands and cities can appear close up in the sky. Atmospheric refraction can "double" an image and make it appear as two images side by side. "Mirror" mirages have even been seen, where the duplicate is a mirror image of the original. The "Fata Morgana" is a mirage known in the Straits of Messina where magnified scenes from the coast of Sicily can be seen, either suspended in the air or down in the water, across the straits. This effect has also been observed from Firth of Forth, Scotland.

Radio signals sometimes echo with intervals of several seconds (which would place the reflector outside the orbit of the moon). A Dutch scientist set up an experiment in 1928 where, after several months of trying (no doubt conditions had to be just right), the echo of three Morse code "dots" were heard at intervals as long as 25 seconds. The longer the echo time, the more "smeared" and faint the dots were. The shorter echo times could have been echos from the moon, but the longer times are unexplained.

Odd Weather

Weather is often odd, but sometimes it gets really wonky: Soon after WWI near the ship canal in Manchester England, one C.S. Bailey observed a small thundercloud gather only 30 to 40 feet above the ground. The cloud was only 100 yards long and about six feet thick. Twice, about forty seconds apart, lightning tore through the cloud, producing loud thunder. The cloud dispersed soon thereafter.

Clouds of all sorts of odd shapes have been observed: whorls, wagon-wheels, thin bands connecting other clouds, dark circles inside of lighter clouds, etc. The Austrailian "Morning Glory", however, is one of the most strange. Soon after sunrise in Australia's Gulf of Carpentaria a long, low, cylindrical cloud will appear on the eastern horizon and advance to west like a rolling sea wave. It is generally 100-200 meters thick, as low as 50 meters from the ground and moves at 50-100 kilometers per hour. Double morning glories are common, but as many as seven in a row have been seen. One aircraft pilot followed one for 120 km without seeing any end to it.

In 1780, New England had a "dark day". About 10 in the morning the sky started to darken and by noon it was almost pitch black. Then, it began to lighten, and by 3 in the afternoon it was only as dark as a darkly cloudy day. In Hartford, Connecticut, the legislature adjourned, but at a governor's council meeting in the same building, Col. Abraham Davenport was quoted as saying, "Either the day of judgement is at hand or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I wish to be found in the line of my duty. I wish candles to be brought." Forest fires are the modern-day explanation, but volcanos are known to produce similar darkness, sometimes lasting for days, and at a great distance from the volcano.

Rain has been observed to fall from a cloudless sky on many occasions. In 1800, in Philadelphia, it rained for 20 minutes from a cloudless, windless sky. There was enough rain to wet the clothes of those caught in it. On November 13, 1833, an immense shower of meteors collided with the earth's atmosphere over North America and the abundant dust released caused cloudless rain in several places.

Pinpoint falls of rain have been observed many times, too. In 1849, near the village of Kemerton in England, a flood of water that came down a ravine was traced back to a single five-acre field where the crops had been beaten flat by the force of the rain. In New Hampshire in 1966, a five-inch rain was found to have fallen only within a radius of about 1/2 mile. Outside of the radius, less than 1/4 inch fell. Colored rain is another often-observed phenomena. Rains of black, red and yellow have all been reported. Rain has also been observed that was full of static electricity and crackled and sparked when it hit the ground.

Giant snowflakes as large as 8 inches across have been observed on many occasions, as has hail of almost every conceivable shape: conical, hat-shaped, crystalline, spherical with projections, lumpy, flat sheets, and "flakes" as large as 80 pounds. In Virginia in 1894, a hailstone was found with a six by eight inch gopher turtle frozen inside it (more on weird stuff falling from the sky below).

In North America in 1816, there was no summer. An unexpected freeze killed all the crops in early June, when there were also two snowfalls in New England. By the middle of June, summer seemed to be setting back in, but in July another freeze killed the replanted crops. This was followed by another freeze on the 20th of August. Volcanic dust is the modern explanation.

Weird Stuff Falling From the Sky

Weird stuff sometimes falls from the sky. Some falls can be explained, but others are so strange that it's hard to imagine that any scientific explanation is even possible. In some cases it seems clear that a tornado or waterspout might have picked the material up and deposited it at some distant point. In other cases, though (such as where only a single species of fish falls), it's hard to imagine what forces could be at work.

In 1859, John Lewis reported: "I was getting out a piece of timber, for the purpose of setting it for the saw, when I was startled by something falling all over me - down my neck, on my head, and on my back. On putting a hand down my neck I was surprised to find they were little fish. By this time I saw the whole ground was covered with them. I took off my hat, the brim of which was full of them. There were jumping all about. They covered the ground in a long strip about 80 yards wide by 12, as we measured afterwards." He and his friends gathered up a bucketfull of the fish and put them into a rain pool, where they revived.

On October 23, 1947, a fall of fish was observed by many people in the town of Marksville, Louisiana. Between seven and eight o'clock in the morning thousands of fish ranging from two to nine inches fell in an area 1000 feet long and 70 or 80 feet wide, in a density of about one per square yard. They were all fresh water fish, cold (some said frozen) and edible. The weather was calm, but a bit foggy. The New Orleans weather bureau reported no large tornado or updrift in the vicinity of Marksville at that time, although dust devils had been seen the day before.

There isn't room here to go into the other living stuff that falls from the sky: frogs, snails, shellfish, worms, caterpillars, snakes and birds (dead).

Lots of inanimate stuff falls from the sky, too. Hay falls are pretty common, as are falls of large quantities of leaves (sometimes all from one type of tree, others from a mix of trees). Seaweed has been known to fall from the sky at least once (in Scotland). Falls of vast numbers of feathers have been reported ("it appeared to be snowing"). Cobweb storms have been reported many times (and are quite explainable). Showers of seeds, nuts and berries have been reported. One shower, in Dublin, Ireland, was of a single species of berry that fell so strongly that even policemen in their helmets were obliged to take cover. A shower of seeds in Italy covered the ground of the town of Macerata to a depth of 1/2 inch. Falls of sand, cinders, coal and dust have also been reported.

The Welsh call it Pwdre Ser (traslation: rot of the stars), others call it Star Gelly. Reported many times (even as recently as 1978), Star Gelly is a gelatinous mass found on the ground. It usually smells quite rotten and evaporates over the course of a day or so. Some report seeing it falling from the sky, others find it on the ground. Its discovery is often associated with meteors or other atmospheric display. The phenomenon is common enough that it shows up in old literature, such as Walter Scott's novel The Talisman and the poetry of William Somerville.

Big chunks of ice fall out of the sky now and then, even before the invention of airplane restrooms. Sometimes, the chunks have dirt or gravel inside (also making the airplane theory hard to believe). In one case, in June of 1953 in Long Beach, California, fifty lumps, weighing as much as 150 pounds each, fell from the sky (all together, more than a ton of ice). In 1973 a piece of a large chunk of ice that fell to earth was analyzed and found to contain nothing but cloud water. In 1849 a piece of ice 20 feet in diameter hit the ground in Scotland. It appeared to be mostly clear ice, with many small hailstones congealed together inside.

Sea and Lake Phenomena

There are a number of reports of giant, solitary waves that come out of nowhere and hit ships; causing a good deal of damage. Solitary waves have been reliably observed to be as high as 75 feet and there is no good theory to account for them. Earthquakes and underwater disturbances generally cause trains of waves with long wavelengths, not single waves. In one case, a single wave washed all of the crew overboard except one sailor who was sick in his bunk. Tidal surges can generate soliton waves a foot or two high that move miles inland along narrow rivers or canals.

Regular trains of waves can build up dangerously as they pass through narrow channels or straits. Earthquakes and weather often cause surges in lakes. In 1895, a storm on Lake Erie caused the level of the lake to rise six feet in one hour at one location. A storm pushed a wall of water 10 feet high into Chicago from Lake Michigan in 1954; seven were killed. It's not all rough, either. Odd patches of smooth, slick water are occasionally reported. In one case, a smooth lane only 100 feet wide was followed by a ship for 30 miles (with rough water on both sides of the calm lane).

Funny Sounds

Mistpouffers are dull, explosive sounds like distant cannons heard all around the world, but especially near sea coasts. They're called marina or brontidi in Italy, and uninari in Japan. The quality of their sound, the time of day and the weather that precipitate them varies from location to location. Various explanations have been offered, such as earthquake or undersea gas deposits. They aren't limited to the ocean, either, they are sometimes known as "lake guns" on fresh water lakes (such as the "Seneca Guns" on lake Seneca in New York).

When the auroras seem to dip near the ground, some but not all observers claim to hear a swishing or rustling sound. The problem is that there's no reason for the aurora to make any noise, the action is far up in the atmosphere where the air is very tenuous. The native Alaskans claim that all of them can hear it and think white people are silly indeed for their inability to hear it. Scientists have tried to study the phenomenon, but with little success so far.

People at various times and places have claimed to be bothered by a humming noise that they claimed was all around them. In 1977 a letter published in the English Sunday Mirror drew 800 responses by people saying that they too were bothered by the noise. This happened again in the 1980's in New Mexico when people claimed to hear a "Cosmic Hum". People near Yellowstone Lake claim to hear an ethereal whispering noise.

Wind blowing across the Greenland ice near the coast has been known to generate deep, musical notes. Wind blowing over sand occasionally creates musical notes in several desert locations. In some places, echos have been known to return as musical notes or harmonies.


All of this summarized from:

Handbook of Unusual Natural Phenomena, William R Corliss, ©1983, published by Arlington House, Inc, distributed by Crown Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-517-60523-6.

Severe and Unusual Weather, Joe R. Eagleman, ©1990, published by Trimedia Pub Co, ISBN 187769603X

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