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Did you see flashes? Yep, an earthquake can create ’em (w/video)

Moments after Sonoma County residents were jolted awake by Sunday’s earthquake, many also spied strange light flashes illuminating the sky.

Could they have been lightning? Utility wires whipping together and sparking? Transformers blowing? Some even described the unusual sight as looking like a camera flash.

Some saw them as diffuse light bursts in the sky, others as horizontal streaks, and still others thought they saw a source near the ground.

What the heck were they? Were folks imagining things, or is this a real phenomenon?

If you saw them too, don’t worry. You didn’t imagine them, nor are they alien ships — which have been theories posited in years past.

There is actual scientific evidence that explains the rare events.

Friedemann Freund, a senior researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center and an adjunct physics professor at San Jose State University, has done extensive research on the phenomenon, called EQL, earthquake lights or earthquake luminosities.

Researchers have documented 65 occurrences in the Americas and Europe over the past four centuries. Their findings were published this year in the journal Seismological Research Letters.

Freund said Monday that he is not surprised by local reports of EQLs following the quake near American Canyon. He also had received reports from the San Pablo Bay area and Vacaville.

He said EQLs occur because electrical charges are created when rocks in the earth are being stressed.


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