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Earthquake lights may be a preparedness tool. These are not heavy duty lights you buy at Home Depot and turn on before an earthquake. They are much more amazing than that, and much more rare. Geologists say they are turned on by Mother Earth.

For hundreds of years, the fascinating phenomenon of earthquake lights has had eyewitnesses and experts shaking their heads. From various places around the world, reports have consistently surfaced of people seeing unusual lights on the ground as well as in the sky in areas where earthquakes occurred soon thereafter.

These legendary tales of strange lights been looked at like UFOs or disregarded as hallucinations of people who obviously had rocks in their head. But now researchers say they’ve seen enough of the light to develop a theory.

In the January-February 2014 issue of the journal, Seismological Research Letters, there is details of a potentially groundbreaking study. An international team of scientists has shared their findings from researching earthquake lights. “They are a real phenomenon. Earthquake lights are not UFOs,” says Robert Thériault, a Canadian geologist at Quebec’s Ministry of Natural Resources in Quebec City, and lead author of the new report. “They can be scientifically explained.”

The emergence of smart phone technology in the hands of amateur photographers has impacted the movement. Photos of lights before recent major earthquakes in Chile, China, and Japan helped to document what people claimed they saw.

Thériault’s team tackled the problem of having to work through a mix of legitimate eyewitness accounts with tall tales and fringe science which has surfaced over the years. They gathered all of the reports they considered reliable dating back to the year 1600. They narrowed their focus to examples of earthquake lights from 65 earthquakes. 38 of the earthquakes took place in Europe. 27 occurred in the Americas. They include:

San Francisco, California. On April 18, 1906, just before the great quake hit, blue flames were seen at the base of foothills west of San Francisco. Also, in nearby San Jose, there were eyewitness reports of an entire street looking like it was on fire with a beautiful rainbow color.

Quebec, Canada. On November 12, 1988, people along the St. Lawrence River near the city of Quebec claimed to see a bright pink-purple globe of light move across the sky. 11 days later, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake hit, one of the most powerful in eastern North America in the 20th Century.

Pisco, Peru. On August 15, 2007, a naval officer reported seeing pale-blue columns of light bursting in succession out of the water four times. This was as the mighty 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck. Various security cameras across the city of Pisco captured images of the lights as well.

L’Aquila, Italy. Moments before the 5.9 magntitude earthquake struck central Italy on April 6, 2009, pedestrians walking along Francesco Crispi Avenue in the town’s historical city center reportedly saw flames of light at least 4 inches high flickering above the stone-paved street.

The study shows these types of earthquakes are linked to a specific type of temblor in specific areas with certain geological formations. Of the 65 earthquakes the scientists studied, 56 of them occurred along an active or ancient rift zone where the ground was pulling apart. 63 of the 65 quakes took place where the deep geological faults which ruptured were almost vertical, some reaching down more than 60 miles into the earth’s crust.

The study suggests the severe stress of rocks grinding against each other can generate electric charges which travel upwards. Once they reach the Earth’s surface and interact with the atmosphere, they can create a glow which ranges from floating balls of light to columns shooting up out of the earth and up into the sky. The charges reach what is referred to as a plasma state. When this happens, it produces light. The study says less than 0.5 percent of all earthquakes happen in the right place to produce earthquake lights.

Though they have acted as warnings in the past, Earthquake lights aren’t common enough in earthquake zones to be used officially as a warning system. However, the scientists believe raising awareness about their legitimacy could serve as a sign of an imminent threat of a possible major earthquake.

In addition, Freeze Dry Guy is ready to serve you with earthquake preparedness food, when you see the light about the reality of needing to have a plan in place.