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Your personal experiences of unusual phenomena?

  1. Mar 20, 2004 #1


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    I am curious to read personal anecdotes any of you may have about physical phenomena that are not seen very often. I don't mean deliberate observations in a laboratory setting. Just something that happened when you were not expecting it. For instance, supposedly the sun as it is setting (or rising?) can sometimes seem to give off a green (?) flash. I have no idea what that is about, or if it is true. I have never seen it happen. Also, pilots speak of something called a "glory" which is kind of a halo that is sometimes seen near clouds. Ball lightning sounds wild and crazy, but it has been observed enough times that it is likely to be for real.

    As for me, I can think of two things that happen rarely enough that I have only experienced them once each.

    One morning I was stopped behind a cement truck at a red light. It was cold (by desert standards, anyway) and there was no discernable wind, if those are parameters that matter. When the light turned green and the truck driver hit his throttle, a smoke ring came out of the vertical exhaust pipe's open end and rose slowly up into the air. I watched it rise for a good 5 seconds. Other than that, I've only seen smoke rings coming from the mouths of smokers.

    One day I wanted to cool a cup of tapwater quickly, so I put it in the freezer. When I took the cup out of the freezer, I noticed it was completely liquid; there was no skin of ice on it. I put it up to my lip to drink it, and the moment the water touched my upper lip I felt a funny sensation and heard a sound coming from the cup. I pulled it away from my mouth, and the cup was full of opaque white slush. I take it this was an example of supercooling, and my lip provided a surface for freezing to start, and the freezing propagated from that point to the rest of the water in the cup over the course of about one second. It probably says something good about whoever had washed the cup. :wink:
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  3. Mar 20, 2004 #2


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    A very good question, Janitor. :)

    I can think of two.. and one of them, I have asked my students (when I used to teach intro physics) to actually test.

    The first is actually something familiar but only if one pays attention to it. If you heat water in a cup, sometime, depending on how long you heat it, when you take it out and put in a tea bag, for example, it starts to "boil" or foam up. This is true even if the water you took out isn't boiling. There's a simple explanation for this, of course.

    The 2nd is more fascinating. I used to ride the Chicago CTA trains and often, you get groups of people or kids getting on it with helium-filled balloons. The fun thing happened when the train started to accelerate. If the balloon isn't rubbing against anything, you start seeing something non-intuitive. Instead of being pushed back as the train gains speed like the rest of us, the balloons actually started tilting FORWARD. The higher the acceleration, the more the balloon tilted forward.

    I gave that last one to my students and almost all of them guessed initially that the balloon will tilt backwards as we all naturally expected. They then had the weekend to actually ride the train with helium balloons and tested this out myself. I was told by someone that there were sightings of students riding the CTA trains that weekend with large quantities of helium-filled mylar balloons. :)

    This one too has a very simple explanation for it.

  4. Mar 21, 2004 #3
    Here in San Diego there is a wndow rattling sonic boom once or twice every year that no one can account for. The military doesn't allow any supersonic flight that might cause this over a populated area, and they also routinly deny any munitions testing or accidents that could account for these booms.

    I happened to read about this phenomenon in a book called Mysteries of the Unexplained and discovered that it has been reported all over the world dating back even before the invention of explosives. My guess is that they are meteorites that are hitting the atmosphere at a sharp enough angle that they heat to explosion almost imediately, rather than undergoing a slow burn.
  5. Mar 21, 2004 #4
    Cool topic. I have several examples that I can think of.

    When I was a kid we had a small closet in the wall in the kitchen which was filled with cookies and sweets and stuff. Obviously my favorite closet in the house. One night only my brother and myself were in the kitchen and I was looking in the closet to decide what I wanted. My brother was off to the left of me sitting at the table reading. As I was gazing into the closet I felt a hand press on my back and I spun around to tell my brother to wait until I was finished only to see him still sitting at the table a few yards away.

    Then there was the time a bunch of my pals and I were partying in a graveyard. It was the thing to do back then in my town. It was a beautiful clear night. I was gazing up at the stars and noticed that one of them was green. As I stared at it I noticed that it was getting brighter until it was so bright that everyone was looking up at it and it was able to slightly light up the area we were in. All of a sudden it snapped to a bright red and shot off in another direction so fast that my eye couldn't follow it. We were all stunned. Huh! That was weird hug guys? - Yeah! I need another beer!:smile:

    I was stationed in Denver Co when I was in the USAF. I got my orders transfering me to Tucson. I grabbed a ride with some other people I knew and we drove there. In doing so we drove through New Mexico. One night we were on a very long road in the middle of nowhere. I was driving. I noticed a "car" up in the distance "comming towards me" and was wondering when this guy would dim his "high beams". But after a while I noticed that he was still off in the distance. I thought it was a very bright light which was stationary but after 15-20 minutes it never moved. So I thought perhaps that it was a car with its tailight "red" plastic removed and it was that white light that I was seeing. So I sped up to a much higher speed (50->80) and remained at that speed and it never got closer. So I thought I was imagining it so I woke up my friend and he said "Oh. That's just a car!" and as we waited he realized it wasn't a car. We woke up the other guy and he said "Oh. That's just a car!" and as we waited he realized it wasn't a car. Funny thing - I don't recall whatever happened to that light. I just recall the rest of the trip.

    Then there was the time I was sitting in my living room about the year before last. I was watching the TV with the lights off. I hears a snap and a bright blue light in my bedroom. I thought it was my friend who came in that door and was being a wiseass. But when he never came into the livingroom I went into the bedroom - nobody there. I checked the door - locked. I went back into the living room thinking "Huh! That's weird." And as I was watching TV it happened again and this time I rushed into the room and turned on the lights. Nobody there. I quickly went and smelled the electrical outlets for the sent of ozone and then quickly looked out the window to see nothing.
  6. Mar 21, 2004 #5
    Relativity -slipping out of place?

    When I was a child, before first grade I was eagerly awaitng Santa Claus to come and go so I could get my "stuff". I heard a tingling bell and then my grand father calling out to n me to "hurry or I would miss seeing Santa Claus". I burst to the front of the house with grandpa urging me to hurry. Well, I tell you, I saw the sleigh and the reindeer as they climbed over a house about one block away.
    I tell you:I saw Santa Claus and I saw him as clear as the sky.

    But I still can't accept relativity, nor quantum theory, but this is because these models are mere mathematical arifacts, both of which Mother Nature has yet to inform me to the contrary.
  7. Mar 21, 2004 #6


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    I am loving it, guys.
  8. Mar 21, 2004 #7


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    Let's keep these accouns strictly "physically explainable," guys, or it'll have to go to the Skepticism and Debunking forum.

    - Warren
  9. Mar 21, 2004 #8


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    Zoobyshoe's story reminds me--

    There were no supersonic aircraft in 1805. Lewis and Clark were making their way along the Missouri River, along with their band of explorers. They reported in their journals that there was a loud boom that they could not attribute to a waterfall or buffalo herd or Indian activity. Nobody really knows today what it might have been, but a meteorite is a possibility, I would say.

    As a kid I started noticing that on a sunny day, as my shadow approached the shadow cast on the ground by a building eave, the two shadows would appear to bulge out toward one another and "make contact" so to speak. I assume it is some kind of manifestation of the diffraction of light.

    EDIT: Deleted smilie face because the recent update in website software turned it into an odd string of ASCII characters.
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2004
  10. Mar 21, 2004 #9
    That goes counter to the spirit of science. Janitor was only inquiring into personal experiences. All science start with observation and this topic is regarding physical phenomena that are not seen very often. If the topic was ball llightning would you wish us not to discuss it because it's rarely seen?

    In actuality, if I had to bet, then I'd say that what I saw in one case was really ball lighting but I'm reporting only what I saw and not specultating as to what it was. In the first case of the "hand" I'd say it a was a weired "misfiring" of synapses and in the New Mexico case it was probably some bizzare optical phenomena regarding lights of a distant otherwise unseen city that occurs so rarely as to be normally unheard of. But again - that would be speculation - I posted only facts in my post.
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2004
  11. Mar 21, 2004 #10
    I think Chroot was reacting to the Santa Claus story.
  12. Mar 21, 2004 #11


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    I witnessed a very unusual ice ring around the moon years ago. It was so strange that it was on the news the next day because so many people had called in about it. There was no explanation from experts.

    Instead of being a typical "halo" it was a very defined bright white ring very close to the moon, almost touching it. What was so odd was that the ring was slowly enlarging creating an ever increasing clear area around the moon while retaining a clearly defined "rim" for the outer circle. We continued to observe this for almost 30 minutes until the ring covered most of the sky and started fading.

    I've never seen a phenomena exactly like it explained anywhere, I have seen pictures of moon halos, and they are nothing like this ring. So that's kinda cool that I was lucky enough to see it.
  13. Mar 21, 2004 #12


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    I don't know if this falls into the regime of electrochemistry or what, but even on the coldest of mornings my beat up old car starts up within a half second of cranking. When I install new spark plugs, it takes three seconds of cranking for the first start. I am guessing there may be a film of oil or something on the face of the electrodes of the plugs as they come from the factory that causes problems.
  14. Mar 21, 2004 #13

    Chi Meson

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    I've got two:

    About a year ago I was heating some diced carrots in the mocrowave for my infant daughter. I heard a sound like a shorting power cable, and I turned to see a fountain of sparks coming out of the carrots. I've since read about this phenomenon and evidently due to the size of the cubes of the carrots, an electric resonance was created. If I let the sparks continue, I could have created a little plasma cloud! There's a nice website about this involving grapes, google it yourselves!

    Other thing, last winter saw sun dogs for the first time. But the thing that I never heard anyone talk about was that there were Two distinct rings in the sky: there was the ring around the sun (with the sun at the center); there was also a circular ring around the whole sky, with the zenith at the center and the sun on the perimeter. THe sun dogs were at the intersection fo these two rings. I still can't figure out the optics that would make that second ring. Yes I did get a video of it.
  15. Mar 21, 2004 #14


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    I've never seen a sun dog, but what you saw may be on this site. I would love to see one of these.


    I have seen a spectacular sun pillar, and could not find a camera in time to take a picture. There are photographs of some on this site. The one I saw was awesome, a solid hot pink pillar shooting staight up.

  16. Mar 22, 2004 #15
    I thought the question was personal experiences. Hey, I was only a kid and was unable to offer any "physically explainable" model.
  17. Mar 22, 2004 #16

    Chi Meson

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    Great! IT has a name! a Parhelic circle; thanks for the site!
  18. Mar 22, 2004 #17
    Here's a link to the grape and microwave effect reported by Chi Meson. It is short and fun reading. I can't wait to try it.

    Fun with Grapes - A Case Study

    There were other sites, too.
  19. Mar 22, 2004 #18


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    My first time flying an airplane, I saw an entire rainbow. I turned to the west to head back to the airport, and away from the approaching stormclouds, and there was this rainbow that was a complete circle! It looked so solid, it seemed that I could have flown right through the middle.

    It was one of those moments of revelation, and in an instant I became aware that all rainbows are fully circular, and we don't see the nottom half because we are standing on the ground, which puts the horizon right accross the middle.

    It was a sight I'll never forget!
  20. Mar 22, 2004 #19
    I forgot to mention that the green and red lights that we saw may have been a meteorite breaking up in the atmosphere. I.e. when the meteor was comming in it was heading straight towards me and was made of a material which burned bright greem. When it got to a certain point it broke up and turned red and I suspect that when it broke up it was made of a different material inside which started to burn. Probably one part took off in one direction with no light (or we didn't notice it) while the other part turned bright red and shot off the other way.

    Is that possible?
  21. Mar 22, 2004 #20


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    I have heard that booster rockets and satellites that burn up in the atmosphere tend to be brighter, more colorful, and longer lasting than any natural meteor that you are ever likely to witness. I wonder if you were seeing a man-made object?
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