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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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).
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