Static electricity (like tree lightning) on my ceiling?

  • #1
dbecker
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I had a rough night of sleep tonight and woke about 3:30. At one point I was awake on my side and noticed a small burst of light in the room, which I found a bit odd, being familiar with all the things that blink, etc., and not expecting any. But I figured it was just one of those. Then, about 4:00 I happened to be lying on my back with my eyes open. Another burst of light (not super bright, mind you, but enough to notice), but this time I could have sworn I saw what looked like tree lightning -- a twisting line of white light -- flash across part of the ceiling.

Now I was intrigued because I've never heard of something like that. So I told myself I'd lie for 15 more minutes and watch the ceiling, and sure enough, after 10 minutes, it happened again, and this I saw it for sure, clear as day. It looked very similar to a bolt of lighting, but went about halfway across the ceiling from the center to the a corner, in the same general area as the last one.

We have an HVAC mini-split in that corner, which I'm guessing is throwing off some kind of electrostatic field and causing a spark of static electricity to light up. But I googled and can't find a single example of anyone talking about anything like this so I'm unsure what to think and would love to understand it.

Anyone have any ideas? I left my phone in there to record right now and will post back if that works (unlikely). But my wife is still sleeping there and I don't want to wake her up by going in to get it now 😊.
 
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  • #2
One more thought: there is a ceiling fan in the middle of the ceiling, which is approximately where the light stopped on one end. It is hard to say exactly, but I suppose that is consistent with some kind of static electricity going from the mini split in the corner to the fan.
 
  • #3
Welcome to PF.
dbecker said:
Another burst of light (not super bright, mind you, but enough to notice), but this time I could have sworn I saw what looked like tree lightning -- a twisting line of white light -- flash across part of the ceiling.
They are almost certainly all in your physical head, or one eye. They are a warning symptom that should be investigated by a medical professional.

"A photopsia is a visual disturbance, a flash of light that happens without a light source. You may see sparkles or shapes like lightning bolts. It can be nothing, or it can be a symptom of another condition."
https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/25069-photopsias-eye-flashes
 
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  • #4
Hi Baluncore - Thanks for the response and I truly appreciate the concern in particular, thank you. While yours is a reasonable hypothesis, I don't think it is correct. First of all, I was wide awake when this third flash happened and my perception was very strongly that it was in the physical world and not in my head, as opposed to, say, when I get visual aura during migraines.

My main evidence, though, is the way the room lit when it happened. Take the third episode, for example. The room was dark until I saw the line of lightning, and when I did the whole room was lit with diffuse light, exactly as it would be as if there were a light source at the ceiling. If that lightning were in my head, I don't think the knick-knacks on my dresser would have been lit exactly as they were, matching what would happen if an actual shot of static electricity ran across the ceiling. That's inconsistent with what I'm reading about photopsias.

I've gone through about an hour of the footage that my phone recorded, but no luck. I'm planning on setting up a digital camera with the aperture open tonight to cover the whole ceiling and see if I capture anything. On the other hand, we've lived in this house for 20 years and of course been awake in the night before and never seen this so I'm not confident I'll capture anything. On the other hand, the mini split in our bedroom is only about a year old, so maybe.
 
  • #5
I agree with @Baluncore -- this could be a symptom of a detaching retina, and it is extremely important that you see at least an optometrist (preferably an ophthalmologist) as soon as possible.

It could also be that a passing car or somebody outside looking for something with a flashlight caused these errant flashes, but please see the medical professional asap. Good luck.
 
  • #6
Thanks for the concern, @berkeman. Assuming I did correctly see a sparking line of light, I am certain it wasn't something outside (no light source other than a laser can produce a line of light on the ceiling -- it would always be more diffuse). And for the other hypothesis of the detached retina, again, while I see where you are coming from (a) I have zero other symptoms so far and (b) it doesn't explain why I saw not just a "lightning" type of light but that the room itself was lit exactly as it should have been if that kind of light source was really there. I don't know how to explain that part of it without there having actually been an actual light source. Nothing happening only in my brain would produce a "lighting" type of effect, but then actual light a dark room as if the lightning was actually there.
 
  • #7
dbecker said:
Nothing happening only in my brain would produce a "lighting" type of effect
It can be caused by a retina starting to detach. A quick motion by your eye can produce a mechanical tugging on the retina, which stimulates the photoreceptors near the tear. Please make an appointment today to be seen at least by an optometrist so they can do a dilated pupil exam of your retina.
 
  • #9
dbecker said:
I don't know how to explain that part of it without there having actually been an actual light source.
You can keep a phone watching (with a motion detector running) to have a proof, but disbelief should not be a reason for not being cautious.
 
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  • #10
Truly, I appreciate all the concern from everyone. And I will be cautious about my eye. Believe me, as a cancer survivor of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in my 20's, I'm quite the hypochondriac, ha. But everyone is ignoring what is the important evidence here that this was not in my eye. Nothing happening in my eye or in my brain would create lightning AND (and this is the key point) light up the room with diffuse light.

@berkeman you mention that a detached retina can create a lightning effect. That's true. But while a detached retina might make me perceive a "lightning" type effect, it would NOT cause me to perceive a darkened room all lit up as if there was a light source where that lightning is. And that is precisely what I saw.

To me: that part of this experience overwhelming suggests this was an actual light source and not in my head or eye, so I'm frankly not very concerned about my health here (though, again, I appreciate all your concern). I'm much more fascinated by what might by a physical explanation, for their must be one.
 
  • #11
dbecker said:
@berkeman you mention that a detached retina can create a lightning effect. That's true. But while a detached retina might make me perceive a "lightning" type effect, it would NOT cause me to perceive a darkened room all lit up as if there was a light source where that lightning is. And that is precisely what I saw.
Let me be a little more clear -- I went though this experience, and it was a sign that my retina was detaching. I saw my optometrist that afternoon, and was in emergency eye surgery with an ophthalmologist the next day. What you describe is very close to what I saw.
 
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  • #12
Thanks, @berkeman -- you were in a dark room, saw lightning flash and objects in that room lit up along with the lightning as if it were really in the room, and then went back to being dark after the lightning stopped? I want to make sure that's *exactly* what you saw. Seeing a flash of lightning from a detached retina I understand. Can you explain to me how a detached retina could cause your brain to perceive a dresser in the room that is dark suddenly be lit exactly as if there was a light source in the right spot? You understand the neurological processing involved to make that happen, right? Make it make sense to me that a detached retina could cause that.

As I read of symptoms of detached retina, I have no other symptoms. Also, this was not what I would call a "flash" of light. It was a line of "lightning" that persisted for more than an instant. Kind of like lightning in the sky -- lights up, pulses for probably less than a second, then goes away. But not a flash. Subtle difference, but every description of symptoms of retinal detachment I see online says flashes of light. Not: it will look as if a dark room has lit up.

I do understand you are just trying to look out for my health here and I will keep a sharp eye out (no pun intended) for any other symptoms. And will consider at least going to an optometrist today, as I suppose it isn't that big of a deal. But my scientific mind tells me there is a discontinuity between a "flash" of light caused by a detached retina and perceiving dark objects in a room lit up.
 
  • #13
dbecker said:
Nothing happening in my eye or in my brain would create lightning AND (and this is the key point) light up the room with diffuse light.
The air in a bedroom will be warm and moist due to respiration, so will rise to the ceiling. That surface makes a good electrical conductor.

A static electrical discharge, in a bedroom, would not travel through the air parallel with a wall or the ceiling. It will move directly into the wall or ceiling material by the shortest possible route.

There will be no "voltage breakdown" arc, like lightning, since all electrical equipment is earthed. Any static voltage will leak to earth through the house structure before an arc forms.

No matter how convinced you are that the phenomena was external to your body, you must understand that your brain is going to fill in the missing pieces, so you cannot be certain what was, or was not, really real.
 
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  • #14
@Baluncore Thank you very much for that explanation. That was definitely information I did not have and is very helpful (about how the electricity would work). And that is also a fair point how the brain does fill in missing pieces.

I've decided I am going to call my ophthalmologist and ask if he thinks it is worth coming in, given that I do not have any other symptoms like floaters, etc.
 
  • #15
dbecker said:
Thanks, @berkeman -- you were in a dark room, saw lightning flash and objects in that room lit up along with the lightning as if it were really in the room, and then went back to being dark after the lightning stopped?
I was walking down a darkened hallway when I saw a flash of light high on the wall to my left. It was weird enough that I stopped and started looking around that wall trying to figure out what was going on. I noticed that it seemed to correlate with me flicking my eyes from one point to another, which would generate small flashes. When I returned to a well-lit area, I could not see the flashes anymore (too much light I guess). I did some Google searching and saw the possibility that it was a detaching retina, and called my optometrist immediately and drove to that appointment.

dbecker said:
I've decided I am going to call my ophthalmologist and ask if he thinks it is worth coming in
Thank you. At the very least you can eliminate that if it isn't the cause. If it is the cause, it's super important to catch it early.
 
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  • #16
For those interested: I did speak to the ophthalmologist office, who referred me to a retina specialist. I spoke to his team.

Because I do not have a single other symptom like floaters, veiled vision, etc. they weren't super concerned (though they did kindly offer to make space to see me today). I declined the offer as I'd have to miss half a day of work. If it recurs, or any other changes happen, I will go in.

I did think of another piece of evidence that something happened in the room and not my eye. In all three episodes, the light source was in the same spot in the room. The first time I was on my side and while I didn't see the "lightning," the room lit up consistent with it being on the ceiling between the fan and the corner.

Next, I was on my back looking forward and the room lit up and I quickly looked up and saw the light in that spot. And the last time I was looking at the ceiling right when it happened.

If it was in my eye only, why would I have to always look at the ceiling between the fan and the corner to see the lightning? It would be wherever I was looking at the time. So to my mind at least, there is still something unexplained here.

@berkeman: I am glad you got yours taken quickly as you did and that hopefully all is well with your eye. The fact that it correlated with flicking your eye was definitely a strong clue that it was eye-related.
 
  • #17
@dbecker
If you had asked for medical advice, this thread would have been closed immediately.
By asking for advice on the physics, I believe you have received the very best medical advice possible within the forum rules.
 
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  • #18
I'm just glad no one told me it was a ghost. 😀
 
  • #20
When I first read the OP, cosmic rays, or a nearby radiogenic source, came to mind, but those do not generate lightning tracks, which are a deeper feature, part of the visual processing 'line-detection' in the visual cortex.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_ray_visual_phenomena

We should all perceive small, occasional scintillations against the background when we are in a dark environment. Our eyes are bleached by light during the day, then become more sensitive as they acclimatise to the dark at night. The rods that detect light, without colour, are the most sensitive part of the retina. There are still sufficient cosmic rays at sea level to trigger the perception of instant white point flashes. You should be able to see cosmic rays, half an hour after entering a dark place, when there are no external forces and there is no pressure to distort the relaxed retina of your eye.
 

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