What is “telluric light”, the doubts of experts about lightning during earthquakes

Many videos on social media show the sky full of flashes and beams of light during the earthquake which, at 3:17 local time (2:17 in Italy) on February 6, devastated southern Turkey and Syria. It could be the phenomenon of “telluric lights”, lightning that would sometimes be seen during an earthquake. (EARTHQUAKE IN TURKEY AND SYRIA. UPDATES)

The doubts of the experts

The phenomenon is still debated and gives space to various theories that leave experts sceptical. The “telluric lights” are rarely reported and sightings usually occur during strong earthquakes, with a magnitude greater than 5.0. According to various experts, to date there is no certain evidence linking these lights to earthquakes. Geophysicists, as stated on the USGS website, Geological Institute of the United States, have conflicting ideas due to the fact that a correlation between duration, epicenter and lightning strikes in the sky has not yet been found. Some think there is no solid evidence, while others have put forward physical hypotheses that would explain the phenomenon.

Hypothesis bad weather and short circuits

However, there are some factors that dismantle the theory of “telluric lights”: bad weather and short circuits. If a broad front of bad weather with rain, snow and lightning is present in the area of ​​the shock at the same time, as happened in the case of Turkey, the electric discharges could be linked to the bad weather and not to the earthquake. On the other hand, it cannot be excluded that the damage caused by the earthquake to plants and power plants could be connected to the flashes of light visible in the sky.

What the geologists say

Even the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology has tried to explain the phenomenon: “High-energy earthquakes are also observed at great distances from the epicenter – reads the Ingv website – and sometimes they can anticipate the tremors by a few months. But still little is known about these strange luminescent phenomena. The lights during earthquakes have been known for centuries. As the Invg geologists explain, Pliny the Elder over two thousand years ago in his “Historia Naturalis” told of a luminous event that occurred during the earthquake near Modena in 91 BC Over the years there have been various testimonies and some recent models suggest that the generation of seismic lights “may involve the ionization of the oxygen contained in some types of rocks (dolomite, rhyolite, etc.) as a result of stress before and during an earthquake”. But, concludes the Institute, “this phenomenon does not seem to be a verified effect for all seismic events and, therefore, requires more in-depth investigations and reflections”.