Following on from the last post on “possessed foods”, comes more discussion about the strange and wonderful. I have always had an interest in the weird, the odd, the unusual and the paranormal. I was fated to be a fan of the X-files as I was of Kolchak -the Night Stalker, which was its predecessor and according to X-file creator, Chris Carter, an inspiration for the series.
I haven’t abandoned my scientific sensibilities and try to look at each of these reported phenomena objectively. At the same time, I don’t dismiss all paranormal phenomena as bogus hocus pocus and hoaxes, believing instead that where there is smoke, there is fire. I don’t believe in aliens creating crop circles, for example, as it can easily be done by pranksters. However, other phenomena may appear strange but may be scientifically verified and explained when properly scrutinised.
To my great satisfaction, two of my favorite strange phenomena from my youth have now been more or less been properly documented and there are now plausible scientific theories to explain them. These are the phenomena of “spontaneous human combustion” and “ball lightning”.
Spontaneous human combustion refers to cases where humans are believed to burst into flames such that the bodies are discovered burnt to ashes with the exception of parts of the hands or legs. However, there maybe minimal damage to the surroundings such as the bed or chair. An interesting literary side-note is that Charles Dickens killed off one of his characters, Krook, in Bleak House by this means.
The “wick” theory seems to adequately explain all the different aspects of the phenomena and has been successfully demonstrated using pig carcasses. The theory basically says that a low grade fire caused by, for example, a cigarette lighting a blanket, can be fueled by melting body fat. The blanket may take up the oil and the oil may burn but the blanket would only char just as in a lit candle where the wick does not burn. In this way, the body is consumed with little damage to the surrounding and the parts of the body with least fat, i.e. hands and legs, are not consumed.
Then there is ball lightning. Ball lightning have been reported for hundreds of years. They are basically charged luminous spheres which can move around for short periods. In some cases, they appear capable of going through surfaces like walls but in other cases they explode on contact. They can kill people in the same way normal lightning can. One of the earliest well documented case involved a 2.4 m diameter ball of fire that entered a church in Devon, England in 1638 which killed 4 people.
For many centuries, science tended to ignore ball lightning as an unreliably reported phenomena. There was no theory then that could explain electricity or lightning behaving in this strange manner. However, many scientists today accept ball lightning as a rare but naturally occurring phenomena and while it is still unclear what really happens in nature, similar glowing spheres have been successfully created in laboratory experiments.
These luminous spheres can be created by discharging a high voltage capacitor in a tank of water; or by using microwaves on certain compounds and objects; or by the oxidising of silicon vapours. The microwave experiments produce “plasma balls” which adequately demonstrates all the know properties and behavior of ball lightning.
Strangely, one of the things that seems to produce plasma in a microwave is a cut grape (as seen in the video below). I wonder how that was discovered. Probably some bored scientist putting everything he/she could find in the kitchen into the microwave for entertainment. Anyway, don’t try this at home. Apparently the fumes produce are toxic and the gases can get so heated up that it can shatter glass. You have been warned.
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Anyway, this post is meant to whet your appetite for the strange and unusual cause next week I will share with you one strange X-file that this humble squirrel was indirectly involved in. Till then. Too doo, too doo, too doo too doo……. (theme from Twilight Zone).