“A wand’ring fire
Compact of unctuous Vapour, which the Night
Condenses, and the Cold environs round,
Kindled through Agitation to a flame,
Which oft, they say, some Evil Spirit attends,
Hovering and blazing with delusive Light,
Misleads th’ amaz’d Night-Wand’rer from his way
To bogs and mires, and oft through Pond or Pool,
There swallow’d up and lost, from succour far.”

As readers of this blog may know, I am interested in all things scientific, indeed, hardly a day goes by without me having to frantically investigate Buchner’s Funnel , give Signer’s Dog a once-over or look into Craig’s Rotavap, so it was that I found myself being kept up to the early hours after New Year’s Day by Prof Andrea Sella telling me all about Spooklights.

Listening to the Prof’s lecture I learnt it is possible to produce X-rays by simply unrolling Scotch tape.

Apparently peeling back ordinary sticky tape can generate bursts of X-rays intense enough to produce an image of the bones in your fingers.

That’s what Seth Putterman and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, found when they used a motor to unwind a roll of sticky tape and recorded the electromagnetic emissions. Ripping the tape from its roll at 3 centimetres per second generated X-ray bursts lasting one-billionth of a second, each containing over a million photons.

The researchers suspect the emissions arise when the two surfaces involved acquire electrical charges of opposite sign. In this case, the adhesive becomes positive and the polyethylene roll negative. The charge difference builds until electrons jump from the roll to the adhesive, apparently with enough energy to produce X-rays when they hit the tape.
(Source: New Scientist 22 Oct 2008)

Other Spooklights I was informed about included the phenomenon known as Will-o’-the-wisp which is said to be seen chiefly on summer nights frequenting meadows, marshes, and other moist places. It is also often found flying along rivers and hedges, as if there it met with a stream of air to direct it.
The Will-o’-the-wisp has been recorded as flickering over marshy ground since at least the middle ages, in the centuries that followed, dozens of antiquaries have recorded anecdotes and personal accounts of the ‘ignis fatuus’ as it is also known, with even Sir Isaac Newton mentioning them in his 1704 opus Opticks. The lights have also been incorporated into modern literature, e.g. Dracula, and have even had a children’s television show named after them. The most commonly cited explanation for them is that they’re the product of ignited marsh gas: most likely slowly leaking methane whose ignition is triggered by phosphene.

Andrea Sella’s blog: http://solarsaddle.wordpress.com/
BBC WS Discovery prog


3 thoughts on “Spooklights

  1. Good post. I’ll be back to comment… having a thought about photons liking their ground state relating to the sticky tape… but need some more info to express that correctly. Did your buddy, Sella explain this in detail?

    • Prof. Sella didn’t go into the physics of the phenomenon so much, but it is explained a little in this article from the science journal Nature.

  2. Hi,
    A very interesting read.
    I’m sorry I have run out of time, it’s nearly 4am here, so I have to get Hubby up now (shift worker) as he is on day shift today. Will come back to go through some more of your posts. 🙂

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