What Is St. Elmo's Fire?

Tools

By By Steve Pool

SEATTLE - It's one of nature's more eerie sights. It's a blue or green glow around pointed objects that's caused by electric fields. It's a semi-rare event, and is most common during strong thunderstorms.

The aura usually forms on the tall points -- such as power poles, ship lasts, antennas, or even aircraft wings -- where electric charges are building in advance of a lightning strike. The glow comes from the tiny sparks of positive charges reaching skyward toward a growing area of negative charges in the sky or in the base of a thunderstorm's cloud.

It was named after Saint Elmo -- the patron saint of sailors. This phenomenon was first observed off the masts of ships hundreds of years ago. It was believed to be mentioned in Moby Dick, as well as Shakespear's "The Tempest".

For More Information:

www.physics.northwestern.edu

www.usatoday.com.

Your Photos

YouNews Fire and Ice Sunrise in Poulsbo Fire and Ice Sunrise in Poulsbo
This was a once-in-a-lifetime shot of a brilliant sunrise on the water of Poulsbo. When I saw the pink light streaming into my window early that morning, I ran outside to capture this photo. Once I saw the photo, I realized that the sunrise created a fire and ice effect that was stunning.