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No. 55: Jan-Feb 1988

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Wheels of light: sea of fire

It has always been perplexing that scientists have made no concerted effort to find the cause of the many forms of the geometrical luminescent displays seen in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and other warm waters. True, a few individual researchers have looked at literature and done some theorizing; but no expeditions have been launched that we know of. Here is a well-verified, richly complex, eerily beautiful, natural phenomenon that is almost completely neglected by science.

Happily, P. Huyghe has now brought the problem to the fore in a comprehensive article in Oceans, He reviews several types of luminescent displays and some of the theories-of-origin that have been proposed. We have space here for only one of the observations he records.

P. Newton was the Chief Officer on the M.V. Mahsuri, which was passing through the Gulf of Oman bound for Australia. It was a dark, moonless night in May.

"Then it happened. What first caught Newton's attention was a pale green glow on the horizon just ahead of the ship, but he said nothing to the cadet standing watch with him. Moments later, parallel bands of bluegreen light began to sweep silently over the water toward the ship from the southeast. Still, Newton said not a word, but he felt as if he should duck. Each light band was about 10 to 15 feet wide and at least 500 feet long, and appeared to be some 15 feet above the water. They came rapidly -- every four or five seconds.

"After the first ten minutes, the bands gave way to expanding circles of light that spread rapidly, like ripples created by a stone thrown into the still waters of a pond. The wheel diameters ranged from ten feet to more than 600 feet.

"'Each wheel would last for a couple of minutes, continually flashing,' Newton recalls. Successive flashes came less than a second apart and glowed a pale green. Newton noticed that the centers of the wheels appeared to travel along with the ship; those on the beam seemed to remain there until they faded and were replaced by a new pattern."

(Huyghe, Patrick; "Wheels of Light; Sea of Fire," Oceans, 20:20, December 1987.)

Comment. The most anomalous aspect of the observation is the apparent above-the-water position of the luminescence. There have been several similar reports down the years; and they combine to cast doubt on the bioluminescene-origin theory. So wedded are the theorists to the idea that bioluminescence is the only possible source of light that these above-the-water observations are denied. Sounds familiar!

Seen in the Gulf of Oman, three sets of expanding rings. Also seen in the Gulf of Oman (from a different vessel) were three sets of expanding rings, one of which was elliptical.

From Science Frontiers #55, JAN-FEB 1988. 1988-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987