Bright lights lit up the night sky Tuesday during a powerful earthquake near the Pacific resort of Acapulco, killing at least one person and shaking buildings hundreds of miles away in Mexico City.
The mysterious light show alarmed many residents, some of whom shared videos online of the blue flashes. Some used the hashtag #Apocalipsis, in Spanish for “end of the world,” where the outbreak of light coincided with swaying buildings and rockslides.
It’s not the first puzzling light spectacle to coincide with a major earthquake. In 2017, for example, images of green and blue lights surfaced on social media following a magnitude 8.1 earthquake in Mexico, National Geographic reported.
Some speculated that the lights were another example of earthquake lights, a phenomenon that has puzzled experts for years.
Troy Sheinbrot, a professor of physics at Rutgers University, told USA TODAY that earthquake lights, or EQLs, are relatively rare but mysterious and long-lived that spark far-fetched theories of UFOs and supernatural spirits. While most earthquakes, even large ones, do not show an EQL, Scheinbrot said it has been recorded historically.
Schinbrot attempted to recreate earthquake lights in his lab by simulating “slip events” similar to how tectonic plates slide over each other during an earthquake. He said his lab measured voltage changes during these slip events, supporting the idea that such voltage changes might occur during an earthquake.
A big hug to all: One dead after a powerful earthquake rocked a Mexican resort town
But he said the debate about why these changes in voltage occur is fraught. Some believe that the light is caused by the friction of rocks that release energy. Others say that some rocks produce large electric fields when they are compressed in certain ways.
“The reason for these lights is quite controversial because no one really knows,” Scheinbrot said.
The USGS says there is also debate about whether EQL ever existed, and some geophysicists “suspect that none of the reports constitute strong evidence for EQL, while others believe that at least some of the reports are reasonably consistent with EQL,” According to the USGS website.
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The site also states that some of the EQL reports were actually caused by power lines shaking during earthquakes.
The lights in Mexico may be earthquake lights, Seinbrot said, but they could also be an electrical failure or explosion of infrastructure such as power plants caused by an earthquake.
“The general message from me is that the lights of the earthquake seem to be there and mysterious,” he said. “I don’t know that this particular example is seismic lights, but it could have been. I think it would be worthwhile to study more carefully the cause of these lights because so few people actually do this research.”
Contact News Now reporter Christine Fernando at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mexico earthquake: blue lights set on the night sky #Apocalipsis scare
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