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No. 11: Summer 1980

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Ignis Fatuus Ignorance

A.A. Mills, a British scientist, has had the courage to research will-o'-wisps, those greatly neglected luminous phenomena frequenting marshy places. His literature search confirms the reality of these cold flames, though they seem to be reported only rarely in modern times. Actually, today's science tends to laugh off will-o'-the-wisps as old wive's tales or as misidentifications of St. Elmo's Fire or Ball Lightning. At the best, will-o'-the-wisps are considered simply the spontaneous ignition of marsh gas -- a trivial phenomenon not worth wasting time on.

Mills' study, however, shows this condescending attitude to be far off the mark. He has experimented with marsh gases, even constructing his own controlled "swamp," and has been unable to duplicate the established characteristics of will-o'-the-wisps; ie., spontaneous ignition, cold blue flames, no significant odor, etc. The marsh gas theory does not seem to hold water, despite many chemical variations.

(Mills, A.A.; "Will-O'the-Wisp," Chemistry in Britain, 16:69, February 1980.)

Reference. All manner of eerie lowlevel noctural lights are cataloged at GLN1 in Lightning, Auroras. Ordering information and description here.

From Science Frontiers #11, Summer 1980. 1980-2000 William R. Corliss