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Saint Elmo's Fire , a Dancing Natural Flame

Updated on November 20, 2014

Saint Elmo's fire has long served as an omen of heavenly intervention to sailors. The Ancient Greeks termed a single jet of the fire, Helena, and a double jet, Castor and Polideykis. It has also been known by the names Saint Nikolas. The name of Saint Elmos is attribute to an Italian derivation of Saint Ermo or Saint Erasmus, the patron Saint of the Mediterranean sailors challenging the powers of storm and sea in small sailing vessels.

Luminous Dicharge of Electricity- Saint Elmo's Fire


Saint Elmo's Fire is a weather phenomenon, involving a gap in electrical charge. It's like lighting but not quite. It's luminous discharge of electricity extend into the atmosphere from some projecting or elevated object. It is usually observed during a snowstorm or a dust storm, as jets extending from the tips of a ship's mast or spar, a wing, propeller, or part of an aircraft, a mountain top, or even from blades of grass or horns of cattle.

Early observers of the phenomenon, mostly sailors on ocean during thunderstorms, seem to have understood they weren't looking at actual fire, because instead of abandoning ship, they took comfort in the sudden glow atop the masts. Such famous explorer as Magellan and Columbus experienced Saint Elmo's Fire during their explorations. Sailors believed that the fire was a sing of salvation from the saint, since the phenomenon occurs most often toward the end of a storm.

Physical descriptions of Saint Elmo's Fire have ranged from a ghostly dancing flame to natural fireworks. It usually is not a blue or bluish -white color attached to fixed, grounded conductors and has a lifetimes of minutes. The flame is heatless and non-consuming, occasionally accompanied by hissing sound. These latter properties promote the myths of spiritual presence. The biblical burning bush that was not consumed may have been displaying one form of Saint Elmo's Fire.

Saint Elmo's Fire also forms on aircraft flying through heavily charged skies, often as a precursor to a lighting strike. The glow can be seen concentrated on wing tips, antennae, the tail, nose and propeller blades when the potential difference is large enough. Saint Elmo's Fire can be heard "singing" on the aircraft's radio.


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