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Glow in the sky still a puzzle for quake scientists - 24/05/1998

Eyewitness accounts of an orange glow in the sky above the epicentre during the main shockwave of the 1968 Inangahua earthquake were dismissed as fanciful at the time. The phenomenon, known as ''earthquake lights'', has been reported for centuries and remains one of the great mysteries of earth science.

Martin Reyners, a seismologist with the Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences Limited, says the phenomenon is well documented in scientific literature, but there is still no satisfactory explanation for it.

It has been variously described as like the glow from a burning ship at sea, flashes from random places on a hillside, sheet lightning, and columns or fans of light. In one well documented case in 1966 at Matsushiro, Japan, the luminous effect lasted for 96 seconds and was captured on film.

'' Apart from these photographs and a few others, there's no hard data,'' Dr Reyners says.

'' Many of the reports have been anecdotal and made by untrained observers. There's little doubt that it happens during some big earthquakes, but it's probably the one area of earthquake science that has made little measurable progress in the past 30 years.''

Included among the theories are a gushing of large volumes of methane, and static electricity effects as quartz-bearing rock shatters.

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