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DNA Explainer: What is earthquake light?

DNA logo DNA 21-03-2023 (DNA Web Desk)
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Strong tremors jolted Delhi NCR as well as many parts of North India including Haryana and Punjab late Tuesday evening. Netizens reacted to feeling the jolts and shared videos of their experiences. Some users claimed to have observed a curious phenomenon unfolding where they saw changing colours of light in the sky. 

Many Twitter users posted videos of seeing changing colours in the night sky asking for explanations for the strange phenomenon. Some even tagged premier US space agency NASA for explanation.


The veracity of the videos is not confirmed. However, if true, what may have been captured could be was likely a phenomenon called Earthquake light.

What is Earthquake light?

It is a relatively rare phenomenon when luminosity is observed in the sky in and nearby areas under seismic activity. It can even occur during volcanic eruptions. While the phenomenon has been observed on many occasions throughout history, ancient and modern, there is no broad consensus on what causes the phenomenon. Since 2016, it has been captured in videos on multiple occasions. 

The exact mechanism behind earthquake lights is still under scientific investigation. However, there are several theories. The most prominent ones are electrically charged particles created by seismic activity that become trapped in the crust of Earth and eventually release like an electrical discharge. Another theory argues that the intense stress during a strong earthquake can create a piezoelectric effect in some minerals which generates an electrical charge that leads to light emission.


The first records of the phenomenon are from the Sanriku earthquake of 869 AD where “strange lights in the sky” were observed. Earthquake light was also reported during the 1975 Kalapana earthquake, 1930 Idu earthquake, 2008 Sichuan earthquake's epicenter, 2003 Colima earthquake in Mexico, 2007 Peru earthquake lights, 2010 Chile earthquakes, 2017 Mexico earthquake and, 

The lights can be visible for a few seconds to some minutes and can occur in skies over areas far flung from epicentre. They seem to accompany stronger earthquakes above 5 magnitude. 

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