A curious phenomenon in Venezuela - Scientific American; Dec 18th, 1886


by Ivan Seeking
Tags: 1886, 18th, american, curious, phenomenon, scientific, venezuela
Ivan Seeking
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Apr20-11, 08:59 PM
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A bit of unfinished business: I discovered this report back in 2008 and was satisfied at the time that it was legitimate, so I posted it in the UFO Napster - not to be taken as suggestive of anything beyond high strangeness from a seemingly credible report.
http://www.physicsforums.com/showpos...2&postcount=60

However, I was not able to confirm the authenticity of this report when I went to double-check later - I noticed that I had never provided a link. I opted to trust my initial conclusion but have poked around ever since trying to find a trustworthy link, or any link! I finally managed to download the original document from the Scientific American archive through the local University Library. I have reposted the original quote, with the Scientific American PDF as an attachment. It is in fact from the December 18th edition, from 1886, as was originally cited. Back then, Scientific American was a weekly! Also, each page of the publication has its own PDF. In total I think there were about 150 PDFs to sort through.

Note that this predates any understanding of radiation in the context implicity suggested by the account. X-Rays were first discovered a year earlier, with Madam Curie's work being more than ten years later. I find this to be a rather amazing letter and all but impossible to dismiss.

Letter to Scientific American
December 18, 1886


CURIOUS PHENOMENON IN VENEZUELA

To the Editor of the Scientific American:

The following brief account of a recent strange meteorological occurrence may be of interest to your readers as an addition to the list of electrical eccentricities:

During the night of the 24th of October last, which was rainy and tempestuous, a family of nine persons, sleeping in a hut a few leagues from Maracaibo, were awakened by a loud humming noise and a vivid, dazzling light, which brilliantly illuminated the interior of the house.

The occupants completely terror stricken, and believing, as they relate, that the end of the world had come, threw themselves on their knees and commenced to pray, but their devotions were almost immediately interrupted by violent vomitings, and extensive swellings commenced to appear in the upper part of their bodies, this being particularly noticeable about the face and lips.

It is to be noted that the brilliant lights was not accompanied by a sensation of heat, although there was a smoky appearance and a peculiar smell.

The next morning, the swellings had subsided, leaving upon the face and body large black blotches. No special pain was felt until the ninth day, when the skin peeled off, and these blotches were transformed into virulent raw sores.

The hair of the head fell off upon the side which happened to be underneath when the phenomenon occurred, the same side of the body being , in all nine cases, the more seriously injured.

The remarkable part of the occurrence is that the house was uninjured, all doors and windows being closed at the time.

No trace of lightning could afterward by observed in any part of the building, and all the sufferers unite in saying that there was no detonation, but only the loud humming already mentioned.

Another curious attendant circumstance is that the trees around the house showed no signs of injury until the ninth day, when they suddenly withered, almost simultaneously with the development of the sores upon the bodies of the occupants of the house.

This is perhaps a mere coincidence, but it is remarkable that the same susceptibility to electrical effects, with the same lapse of time, should be observed in both animal and vegetable organisms.
I have visited the sufferers, who are now in one of the hospitals of this city; and although their appearance is truly horrible, yet it is hoped that in no case will the injuries prove fatal.

Warner Cowgill.
U. S. Consulate,
Maracaibo, Venezuela
November 17, 1886
Attached Files
File Type: pdf Curious phenomenon in Venezuela 168702051.pdf (39.2 KB, 44 views)
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jjoensuu
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Hi Ivan,

looking at the Scientific American article it looks to me like the culprit could be ball lightning.

best regards
Ivan Seeking
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Apr20-11, 09:46 PM
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Quote Quote by jjoensuu View Post
Hi Ivan,

looking at the Scientific American article it looks to me like the culprit could be ball lightning.

best regards
That would be my first thought. If this was due to ball lighting, this is a side of it that is unrecognized. What this describes seems to involve a tremendous amount of energy, assuming it was radiation.

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Apr22-11, 07:50 AM
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A curious phenomenon in Venezuela - Scientific American; Dec 18th, 1886


Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
If this was due to ball lighting, this is a side of it that is unrecognized. What this describes seems to involve a tremendous amount of energy, assuming it was radiation.
NASA has proposed a novel mechanism, the "flux transfer event", by which energy may be conveyed to Earth's surface - special delivery from the sun to the scene of strange meteorological occurrences or electrical eccentricities.
http://science.nasa.gov/science-news...08/30oct_ftes/

Respectfully submitted,
Steve
Ivan Seeking
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Apr22-11, 11:36 AM
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Quote Quote by Dotini View Post
NASA has proposed a novel mechanism, the "flux transfer event", by which energy may be conveyed to Earth's surface - special delivery from the sun to the scene of strange meteorological occurrences or electrical eccentricities.
http://science.nasa.gov/science-news...08/30oct_ftes/

Respectfully submitted,
Steve
Interesting! But likely not applicable in this case.

During the night of the 24th of October last
Dotini
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Apr22-11, 02:07 PM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
Interesting! But likely not applicable in this case.
I'm chuffed that my link was of interest. Within the text, I found this:

"I think there are two varieties of FTEs: active and passive." Active FTEs are magnetic cylinders that allow particles to flow through rather easily; they are important conduits of energy for Earth's magnetosphere. Passive FTEs are magnetic cylinders that offer more resistance; their internal structure does not admit such an easy flow of particles and fields. (For experts: Active FTEs form at equatorial latitudes when the IMF tips south; passive FTEs form at higher latitudes when the IMF tips north.) Sibeck has calculated the properties of passive FTEs and he is encouraging his colleagues to hunt for signs of them in data from THEMIS and Cluster. "Passive FTEs may not be very important, but until we know more about them we can't be sure."

I have the question as to whether the resistance offered up by the passive FTE might allow for a longer-lived event and a delayed discharge on the night-side of the globe?

Respectfully submitted,
Steve
Ivan Seeking
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Apr23-11, 02:31 AM
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Quote Quote by jjoensuu View Post
Hi Ivan,

looking at the Scientific American article it looks to me like the culprit could be ball lightning.

best regards
Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
That would be my first thought. If this was due to ball lighting, this is a side of it that is unrecognized. What this describes seems to involve a tremendous amount of energy, assuming it was radiation.
I should add that we still have no model that can reproduce all of the reported characteristics of ball lightning. In other words, to the best of my knowledge, we have some guesses and potential models, but when we say "ball lightining", we don't really know what we mean.
Ivan Seeking
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Apr30-11, 02:12 AM
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Is it possible to say what sort of radiation could produce the effects described? Can anything be said about a lower limit for the energy involved to produce such results?
Dotini
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May2-11, 08:56 AM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
Is it possible to say what sort of radiation could produce the effects described? Can anything be said about a lower limit for the energy involved to produce such results?
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bes...oosa.mayor.cnn

Here is a video of the recent, very terrible, Tuscaloosa tornado. At about the 1:38 mark, and again at 2:07, will be seen an unusual white ball alongside the tornado. I would be appreciative if anyone could explain it to me. Perhaps it is a large cotton boll or white balloon being sucked down to the ground? But might it be ball lightning? If so we have caught one apparently spawned by an F5 tornado or the attendant lightning.

Respectfully submitted,
Steve
Ivan Seeking
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May2-11, 01:35 PM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
Is it possible to say what sort of radiation could produce the effects described? Can anything be said about a lower limit for the energy involved to produce such results?
It is very telling that we have plenty of debunkers who are quick to posit conspiracy theories or anything else needed to explain away unusual claims, but when faced with something like this - a fascinating, perplexing, and virtually undeniable report - not a word. To me, this is very sad.
Unrest
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Just because it has the name of Scientific American doesn't mean the same story would be published by them today! America didn't really do science back then. This is effectively a letter to the editor of a newspaper, and a 2nd hand story from one person.

Nonetheless, those symptoms sound like radiation sickness don't they?
Ivan Seeking
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Quote Quote by Unrest View Post
Just because it has the name of Scientific American doesn't mean the same story would be published by them today! America didn't really do science back then. This is effectively a letter to the editor of a newspaper, and a 2nd hand story from one person.
I'm not sure what you mean by America didn't do science back then, but the nature of the report is what gives it credibility, not so much the source. That it was a respected diplomat who wrote the letter, and that it was published in SciAm, are just icing on the cake. But the publication allows us to date the letter without any doubt.

Nonetheless, those symptoms sound like radiation sickness don't they?
Imo, that, and the date of the letter - our lack of knowledge about radiation at the time - are what make this report virtually undebunkable. It takes quite a stretch of the imagination to accept that he conjured this story, let alone by chance.
Unrest
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
Imo, that, and the date of the letter - our lack of knowledge about radiation at the time - are what make this report virtually undebunkable. It takes quite a stretch of the imagination to accept that he conjured this story, let alone by chance.
True. But those are also symptoms of other diseases (maybe not together), so it's not beyond doubt that over many half-truth stories, some might happen to resemble things we now know about.

Still, it makes it much more fascinating to consider it true! Especially the part about the underneaths of their bodies being more badly affected. As if radiation came upwards from under the 'hut'? Under their beds?
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Several respondents to this thread have seemed to agree that radiation was involved. I'd like to try to explain this incident using only known physics, recent findings from NASA's THEMIS mission and radiation from the sun's coronasphere. No recourse to aliens, god or the supernatural is needed! I'm no expert at anything except maybe go-kart racing, so I'm expecting some correction and guidance from more advanced members.

Bremsstrahlung and synchrotron radiation occurs from fusion and intense magnetic events in the sun's corona.

Video images of tornadic structures above the sun taken April 25, 2011
http://www.coolcat.dk/images/astro_s...B_inverted.mov
http://www.coolcat.dk/images/astro_s...A_inverted.mov
http://www.coolcat.dk/images/astro_s...S_25x_SeqA.mov

Still image of spherically structured energy above sun taken May 11, 2011
http://spaceweather.com/swpod2011/06may11/fireball1.jpg

THEMIS, short for Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms, has found several mechanisms by which solar substorm radiation can be delivered to the Earth's atmosphere and/or surface.

FTE's: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news...08/30oct_ftes/

Earth's magnetosphere (the magnetic bubble that surrounds our planet) is filled with particles from the sun that arrive via the solar wind and penetrate the planet's magnetic defenses. They enter by following magnetic field lines that can be traced from terra firma all the way back to the sun's atmosphere.

Earth's magnetic field presses against the sun's magnetic field. Approximately every eight minutes, the two fields briefly merge or "reconnect," forming a portal through which particles can flow. The portal takes the form of a magnetic cylinder about as wide as Earth. The European Space Agency's fleet of four Cluster spacecraft and NASA's five THEMIS probes have flown through and surrounded these cylinders, measuring their dimensions and sensing the particles that shoot through. "They're real,"


Space Tornadoes: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/n...s-auroras.html

Whirling at more than a million miles per hour, these invisible, funnel-shaped solar windstorms carry electrical currents of more than a hundred thousand amps—roughly ten times that of an average lightning strike—scientists announced Thursday.

And they're huge: up to 44,000 miles (70,000 kilometers) long and wide enough to envelop Earth.

Led by the University of California astrophysicist Andreas Keiling, scientists have made the most detailed measurements yet of the space tornadoes, also known as substorm current wedges.

Barrages of the wind's charged particles hit the dayside of Earth, then flow around the planet, stretching our magnetic field into a tail—or magnetotail—extending away from the sun.

The new measurements show that a space tornado forms roughly every three hours and takes just one minute to reach Earth's ionosphere—our outermost atmospheric layer, between 62 and 250 miles (100 and 400 kilometers) above the ground.


Space quakes: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news...l_spacequakes/
The surprise is plasma vortices, huge whirls of magnetized gas as wide as Earth itself, spinning on the verge of the quaking magnetic field.

"When plasma jets hit the inner magnetosphere, vortices with opposite sense of rotation appear and reappear on either side of the plasma jet," explains Rumi Nakamura of the Space Research Institute in Austria, a co-author of the study. "We believe the vortices can generate substantial electrical currents in the near-Earth environment."
Acting together, vortices and spacequakes could have a noticeable effect on Earth. The tails of vortices may funnel particles into Earth's atmosphere, sparking auroras and making waves of ionization that disturb radio communications and GPS. By tugging on surface magnetic fields, spacequakes generate currents in the very ground we walk on. Ground current surges can have profound consequences, in extreme cases bringing down power grids over a wide area.


Plasma bullets: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news...plasmabullets/

A little more than midway up the THEMIS line, magnetic fields erupted, "releasing about 10^15 Joules of energy," says Angelopoulos. "For comparison, that's about as much energy as a magnitude 5 earthquake."

Although the explosion happened inside Earth's magnetic field, it was actually a release of energy from the sun. When the solar wind stretches Earth's magnetic field, it stores energy there, in much the same way energy is stored in a rubber band when you stretch it between thumb and forefinger. Bend your forefinger and—crack!—the rubber band snaps back on your thumb. Something similar happened inside the magnetotail on Feb. 26, 2008. Over-stretched magnetic fields snapped back, producing a powerful explosion. This process is called "magnetic reconnection" and it is thought to be common in stellar and planetary magnetic fields.

The blast launched two "plasma bullets," gigantic clouds of protons and electrons, one toward Earth and one away from Earth. The Earth-directed cloud crashed into the planet below, sparking vivid auroras observed by some 20 THEMIS ground stations in Canada and Alaska. The opposite cloud shot harmlessly into space, and may still be going for all researchers know.


Giant Breach in Magnetosphere: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news...c_giantbreach/

"10^27 particles per second were flowing into the magnetosphere—that's a 1 followed by 27 zeros. This kind of influx is an order of magnitude greater than what we thought was possible."

The entire day-side of the magnetosphere was open to the solar wind."


Most respectfully submitted,
Steve
Ms Music
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May17-11, 05:29 PM
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If this was radiation sickness, what would the outcome have been based on what we now know? It appears the article was written less than two months after the occurrence? Could someone with sudden vomiting (sign of high exposure) survive more than 8 weeks? A year? 20 years?

This article could make for some interesting meat for a television series. I don't watch tv, so I don't know which one. But with some money, one could go to Venezuela, pull the death records in that area, and possibly figure out who the family was. If the bodies were buried, they could be exhumed for possible testing.
FlexGunship
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May18-11, 08:29 AM
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Given that the evidence for ball lightning still seems to be very weak (i.e. images, anecdotes, etc.), I figured I throw my hat into the ring with something known to exist. It's not a perfect match, but maybe it'll build on the discussion:

Perhaps these folks weren't far from a natural nuclear fission reactor (NNR, or NNFR: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural...ission_reactor). A sudden exposure to high levels of radiation can saturate your optical nerve; the light they saw need not have been above ground... or even part of the visible spectrum. If an underground NNR were to temporarily experience a runaway a small area may have been bathed in intense radiation for a brief time.

Recently, Venezuela has begun exploratory uranium mining with help from Iran (http://www.wise-uranium.org/upsam.html). Now, I have to confess, I haven't found a SINGLE source that indicates there are large deposits of neodymium and ruthenium isotopes considered to be NNR-indicators in Venezuela; but if they're just starting to look for uranium two years ago, then certainly neodymium and ruthenium could be left undiscovered.

As I understand it, Oklo in Gabon is the only confirmed site of a NNR (http://atlasobscura.com/place/oklo-reactor). So this is just speculation. Just hoping it adds to the discussion.
moejoe15
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Jun27-11, 02:36 AM
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I wonder if there was a followup letter to SA reporting their deaths. Not an expert but a dose of radiation that caused the reported symptoms that quickly must have been fatal. Also from the statement "...and although their appearance is truly horrible.", reported a month or less later, it sounds like they were on their deathbeds. A report of their deaths might help confirm the radiation theory.

An alternative explanation is a tropical disease that happens to be coupled with a sighting. There are diseases that can cause the reported symptoms.
zoobyshoe
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Jun27-11, 07:15 AM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
Is it possible to say what sort of radiation could produce the effects described? Can anything be said about a lower limit for the energy involved to produce such results?
It sounds like X-rays to me. It doesn't take much energy to produce them, just the right configuration of high voltage electrons hitting something metal on its way to ground.

Edison killed one of his lab assistants by using him as the guinea pig in his experiments with X-rays. That involved repeated exposure at small doses. It took a while for people to realize they were dangerous.

This incident in Venezuela would represent a large exposure over a short time. I'm sure any rainstorm could provide the amount of HV needed but we'd have to propose it was released at sub-lightning levels: they were sure there was no lightning strike. Also, where was the metal? Was the hut built over a copper deposit? Could be all it took was some cast-iron cooking pots and tools lying around.

The transient nature of the phenomenon along with the kind of organic damage it inflicted, along with the fact it occurred during "rainy and tempestuous" weather suggests to me it was a freak natural generation of x-rays. We wouldn't expect something caused by radioactive ores to start and then suddenly stop.


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