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Eerie Lights over Cemeteries


Since ancient times, people who have seen unusual or mysterious lights hovering over many locations believed such were ghostly experiences. In more recent times many have learned  natural phenomena provide reasonable explanations to these issues. This article cites some of these natural, scientific answers.

Take a walk in the evening forest and you may see a glow around downed and rotting tree limbs. This has been described as Foxfire, also sometimes called “fairy fire”. Certain species of fungus, when ingesting decaying wood, create a bioluminescence through a chemical energy process involving luciferase an oxidative enzyme that interacts with the luciferim, the light emitting compound of the organism. Foxfire at times produces a green glow and other times produces a blue green glow. Old, neglected or un-kept cemeteries maybe prime locations of “fairy fire”, where the darkness of night and luminous fungus may be present in and around headstones, gates and other spooky places.  Various other species of both poisonous and non poisonous mushrooms glow in the dark. Some of the mushrooms glow green and others glow blue. Bio luminescent fungi have been found virtually all over the world, including North America and Europe.

panellusstipticusaug by Wikipedia
Panellusstipticusaug by Wikipedia

A will-o’-the-wisp, will-o’-wisp, or ignis fatuus Medieval Latin: “foolish fire”) is an atmospheric ghost light seen by travelers at night, especially over bogs, swamps or marshes. It resembles a flickering lamp and is said to recede if approached, drawing travelers from the safe paths. The phenomenon is known by a variety of names, including jack-o’-lantern, friar’s lantern, hinkypunk, and hobby lantern in English folk belief, well attested in English folklore and in much of European folklore.

Mike Lewinski Milo Maine - Flickr
Fireflies on a summers night -Mike Lewinski Milo Maine – Flickr

Fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, glow in the dark. Their glow may be yellow, green,  pale red or orange. A chemical reaction occurs when the firefly’s body adds oxygen to three ingredients calcium, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and  aforementioned luciferin; producing an eerie glow. The insect has the ability to turn the light which is cold off and on, possibly at will. The luminescence is created within a special light-producing organ in the insect’s body, without getting hot which would destroy the firefly.

Firefly glowing - image by ホタル_蛍_Hotaru - Wilkimedia
Firefly glowing – image by ホタル_蛍_Hotaru – Wilkimedia

Light created by these amazing bugs (they are actually beetles and not flies) is extremely efficient nearly 100%, and far more than a typical incandescent light bulb which has an efficiency of only 10%. In the United States Fireflies are fairly common in the northeast during warm summer nights using their glow for mating and to ward off predators. While also found in the other states most western Fireflies do not share the same glowing abilities.

In regards to glowing lights in swamps, bogs, and wetlands; there is swamp gas also known as marsh gas or bog gas. The gas is methane with small amounts of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide. Rotting; decaying vegetation produces an asphyxia to organic material trapped below producing an aerobic digestion; fermentation from the plant and/or animal organisms  to create methane. Enough heat, fuel, and oxygen causes a spontaneous combustion including, at times, fires both upon ground and below ground as well as in the air above. Swamp gas, when ignited, can be green, blue, gold, reddish, and have white mixed in the various colors.

Examples of spontaneous combustion include piles of hay, straw or peat which actually release heat by themselves due to oxidation or by fermentation, all can occur naturally under certain conditions. If the heat is unable to escape the temperature of the material can actually rise above the ignition point resulting in a fire. There is certainly a controversy if humans can exhibit some form of self combustion.

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