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No. 32: Mar-Apr 1984

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Incredible Phosphorescent Display On The China Sea

1720. Four rotating light wheels. Actually the spokes extended to the horizon from all around the four hubs.
April 29, 1982. China Sea. The m.v. Siam encountered -- or perhaps caused -- a most baffling display of marine phosphorescence lasting some 2.5 hours. The complete report is 6 pages long, with 8 diagrams, so only the highlights can be reported here. As is often the case, this display began with parallel phosphorescent bands (2 sets) rushing toward the ship at about 40 mph. They were 50-100 cm above the sea surface. The bands then changed into two rotating wheels; then a third wheel formed. All three rotated counterclockwise, with their hubs 300, 300, and 150 meters from the ship. The spokes stretched to the horizon. The display ceased for about 20 minutes and recommenced with four systems of onrushing parallel bands, which soon metamorphosed into four rotating wheels. Radar, visible light (from an Aldis lamp), and engine revolution appeared to have no effect on the spectacle. Next, evenly distributed, circular, flashing patches of brilliant blue-white light appeared all around the ship out to a distance of about 150 meters. This system of patches flashed away simultaneously the wheel display. The patches varied from 15-60 cm in diameter, and flashed 114 times per minute. When an Aldis lamp played steadily on the patches, nothing happened. When the lamp was flashed, the whole array of flashing patches disappeared, only to reappear in about 2 minutes. Each patch seemed to consist of worm-like segments 2 cm long, 2 cm apart. The worms were all aligned perpendicular to a vector from the ship. In contrast to the bands and wheels, the worms were located about 5 cm below the surface of the water. Water samples revealed no luminous organisms -- only a few animals a few millimeters long. The sea was calm, visibility excellent, although atmospheric electrical activity could be seen all around.

(Kuzmanov, Zoran; "Phosphorescence in the China Sea," Marine Observer, 53:85, 1983.)

Comment. The luminous "worms" resemble the spinning crescents sometimes associated with radar. For more, see Chapter GLW in Lightning, Auroras. To order this Catalog, visit: here.

Flashing patches of worm-like shapes Flashing patches of worm-like shapes. A later phase of thed display.

From Science Frontiers #32, MAR-APR 1984. 1984-2000 William R. Corliss