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No. 124: Jul-Aug 1999

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Unusual Corposants

May 8, 1998. North Atlantic Ocean.

Aboard the m.v. Flinders out of Philadelphia bound for Pennington.

The vessel had just passed through a weather front that produced frequent, violent sheet lightning. Green St. Elmo's fire was glowing on the aerials.

"At about 2310 it was also noted that the lever extending about 18 cm over the ship's starboard bridge wing to position a deck light was also radiating light. This light was a pale violet glow extending in 'spokes' of 10 cm in length from the round end of the lever which was about 3 cm in diameter.
"There were six individual and uniform spokes shot through with brighter purple and white bolts resembling lightning. Over the noise of the wind a sharp crackling and hissing sound could be heard coming from the phenomenon.
"The seaman was called to have a look at the light, he attempted to touch it but the light receded as his finger approached within 3 cm of it. The effect died away at about 2340 as soon as rain started to fall."

(Smedley, R.; "Corposants," Marine Observer, 69:55, 1999.)

Corposant with six-fold symmetry

Comments. The corposant's six-fold symmetry is like that of snowflakes. Strange as it may sound, they may be a connection. First, recall what J. Maddox once wrote about snowflakes in Nature.

"But the symmetry of the whole crystal, represented by the exquisite six-fold symmetry of the standard snowflake, must be the consequence of some cooperative phenomenon involving the growing crystal as a whole. What can that be? What can tell one growing face of a crystal (in three dimensions this time) what the shape of the opposite face is like?" (SF#38)

The speculation is that electrical forces may control the long-range symmetry of snowflakes as well as the unusual six-fold symmetry of the corposant described above. It's a thought anyway.

The word "corposant" is said to be derived from the Latin for "bodies of the saints." It seems that the corpses of some of the saints have been luminous! (See BHA22 in Humans I.)

From Science Frontiers #124, JUL-AUG 1999. 1999-2000 William R. Corliss