What Causes The Hessdalen Lights?

Is Halloween complete without some mysterious lights in the sky? Learn the theory behind the Hessdalen Lights, and why the reality might be scarier than visiting UFOs.


The Hessdalen Lights appear regularly in the sky above the Hessdalen valley in Norway. Unlike many "phantom light" phenomena, they can't be explained away as headlights or passing planes. These lights form different shapes, including helices. Usually they are rough ball shapes. Sometimes they spit out smaller balls that go zooming around the sky.

What is it that causes these lights? There are quite a few theories, but one is pretty disturbing. They could be what's known as "coulomb crystals." These crystals form in plasma. Scientists have mostly created them from calcium particles. They change shape depending on their impurities. One of the shapes they form is a helix.

That's not the disturbing part. What's disturbing is what could be creating the plasma that creates the crystals. Scientists exploring a site near where a large light was seen found an increased level of radiation coming from the rocks. They believe that radon gets into the atmosphere by adhering to dust particles. Radon decays, sending out alpha particles. Alpha particles are two protons and two neutrons - a helium nucleus. Alpha particles aren't dangerous when they're ejected by a source outside the body. Inside the body they can do damage, causing cancer in the linings of the lungs and the digestive tract. If radon is on atmospheric dust, there's a chance people are inhaling it.

So I guess we should hope that it's aliens causing the lights.

[Via A Hypothetical Dusty-Plasma Mechanism of Hessdalen Lights, A Long-Term Scientific Survey of the Hessdalen Lights, Helices Swirl in Space-Dust Simulation, Alpha Particles.]


Chip Overclock®

Hardly unique to Norway, as I've mentioned here on io9 before. We have "radon mitigation" in our suburban Denver home: a fan that runs continuously in our crawlspace that exhausts air from a chimney several feet above our roof. It's not uncommon. Similarly, there are piles of radioactive uranium ore around the mountain towns in Colorado, the result of gold and silver mining for which the naturally occurring uranium ended up in the mine tailings. And finally, for years I commuted daily past the notoriously hot Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, and once it was shut down, the Rocky Flats EPA superfund site.

It's possible I glow slightly in the dark.