Thursday, September 14, 2006

SHC - Spontaneous Human Combustion

Warning: This may be a little disturbing... or maybe not... read on!

From The Skeptics Dictionary

Spontaneous human combustion (SHC) is the alleged process of a human body catching fire as a result of heat generated by internal chemical or nuclear action. While no one has ever witnessed SHC, several deaths involving fire have been attributed to SHC by investigators and storytellers. Charles Dickens used SHC as the cause of death of a heavy drinker in his novel Bleak House (1852), fueling a popular belief that excessive drinking could lead to SHC. Responding to criticism that he was encouraging nonsense, in the second edition of Bleak House Dickens claims he knew of some thirty cases of SHC, but he mentions only two.* Both cases allegedly happened over one hundred years earlier. Dickens or his source probably got his information about SHC from stories collected by Jonas Dupont published in De Incendiis Corporis Humani Spontaneis (1763).*


Spontaneous human combustion is the mysterious phenomenon of a person bursting into flame for no apparent reason. The flames burn very hot and are very localized. They destroy most of the body but leave objects in close proximity to the person relatively unburned.
These are the remains of Dr. John Bentley (on left)who died of spontaneous combustion in Pennsylvania in 1966. The spot where the body lay is burnt, but the rest of the room, including the toilet, was not even scorched. This shows a quick, hot flame that devoured the body in seconds. Only the bottom of one leg remained to identify this as a person. On the right is a picture of workers cleaning up the remains of Mrs. M H Reeser of Florida whoapparently died of spontaneous combustion in July of 1951. The only remains found was her skull, shrunken to the size of an orange.

There are theories on this occurance but no one is sure how or why it happens. It does happen even without scientific explanation. One theory is ball lightning which would produce similar results, but many of these instances seem to rule out this possibility just by the location of the death. A majority of these deaths have the opposite characteristics that one would see if a person was burned to death, such as the shrinking of the skull.

Crematorium Specialist have viewed photos of combustion victims and say they cannot duplicate the complete destruction of bones in such a short period of time. They find it even harder to believe that this could happen so completely in ordinary rooms such as living rooms, bathrooms, etc. There are over 100 unexplained fire deaths a year just in England. If just ten of these deaths are spontaneous combustion, then the number world could be well over 100.

Does the body have chemical reactions that science has yet to discover ? It seems that an internal reaction of some kind is the most likely explanation for these deaths, but what triggers it ? Can it be detected ? Avoided ?

This picture is another case of spontaneous combustion that occurred in London in 1964. One compiled database states the following statistics on possible reported cases:

  • 1950's - 11 cases

  • 1960's - 7 cases

  • 1970's - 13 cases

  • 1980's - 22 cases

  • 1932: Mrs. Charles Williamson suddenly burst into flames on a Janurary morning in 1932. She lived in Bladenboro, North Carolina. She had not been beside any kind of fire, and her dress had not been in contact with any cleaning fluid or other flammable substances. Her husband and daughter ripped the dress off her with their bare hands, but not any of them were burned by the flames. Not to soon after a pair of her husbands pants caught fire while hanging in the closet. The same thing happened to a bed, and curtains in an unoccupied room. Although the house was inspected by special investigators from gas and electric companies, arson experts, and police, there could be found no logical explanation for the sudden fires. The family described the flames as 'bluish, jetlike', and other adjacent objects were not affected. There was no smell, and no smoke and until the object was consumed the fire would not stop. - sent in by jsoverei@schreiber.Lakeheadu.Ca

  • Jan. 13, 1943: 52 year old Allen M. Small was found burned to death in his Deer Isle, Maine home. The carpet beneath his body was scorched, but there was no other sign of fire in the house. Small's pipe was unlit and on a shelf, and his stove lids were all still in place. - sent in by jsoverei@schreiber.Lakeheadu.Ca

  • March 1, 1953: Waymon Wood's body was discovered in the front seat of his closed car in Greenville, South Carolina. His car was stationed on the site of Bypass Route 291. Little remained of Wood, but his car was basically untouched, even though it contained half a tank of gas. The windshield was the only damaged area; it had bubbled and sagged inward, an affect from the intense heat. - sent in by

  • October, 1964: Mrs. Olga Worth Stephens, 75 years and a former actress suddenly burst into flames while waiting in her parked car. The burns were fatal, and she was killed before anyone could come to her aid. Firemen later concluded that nothing in the car could have started the blaze, and her car was undamaged. - sent in by

  • Tuesday, September 12, 2006

    Aurora Borealis/Australis/Polaris

    ~~ This is one of my favorite phenomenoms as it is the most beautiful and ethereal... Lots of good stuff here, so read on!!

    The name

    The northern lights have had a number of names through history. The scientific name for the phenomena is Aurora Borealis, which is Latin and translates into the red dawn of the north. It was the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) who first used the expression. On the latitude where Galileo was living, northern lights consist of mainly red colour.
    In this web site we will use the terms northern lights, aurora, aurora borealis and polar lights to describe it.
    Aurora Borealis - Northern Lights - Nordlys(Norwegian)
    Aurora Australis - Southern Lights - Sørlys(Norwegian)
    Aurora Polaris - Polar lights - Polarlys(Norwegian) (both northern and southern lights)

    What are northern lights?

  • What causes them?

  • Northern lights originate from our sun. During large explosions and flares, huge quantities of solar particles are thrown out of the sun and into deep space. These plasma clouds travel through space with speeds varying from 300 to 1000 kilometers per second.
    But even with such speeds (over a million kilometer per hour), it takes these plasma clouds two to three days to reach our planet. When they are closing in on Earth, they are captured by Earth's magnetic field (the magnetosphere) and guided towards Earth's two magnetic poles; the geomagnetic south pole and the geomagnetic north pole.

    On their way down towards the geomagnetic poles, the solar particles are stopped by Earth's atmosphere, which acts as an effective shield against these deadly particles.
    When the solar particles are stopped by the atmosphere, they collide with the atmospheric gases present, and the collision energy between the solar particle and the gas molecule is emitted as a photon - a light particle. And when you have many such collisions, you have an aurora - lights that may seem to move across the sky.
    In order for an observer to actually see the aurora with the naked eye, about a 100 million photons are required.

    Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) is another word for the gigantic explosions and flares that occurs on our sun.

  • The Sun and its impact

  • The Sun

  • Source of life and auroras.
    The Sun, a burning gas globe, has provided life-giving light and warmth to our earth for nearly five billion years.
    The Sun's energy originates in its interior, where the temperature exceeds 15 million degrees Kelvin (K), and the pressure is 250 billion times greater than on the earth's surface. Here the tremendous heat transforms hydrogen, the lightest element in the known universe, into helium. The sun's surface has a temperature of approximately 5800 K.

  • Solar maximum

  • The solar activity varies over periods of approximately 11 years. When the number of spots peak, we have what is referred to as solar maximum, and likewise solar minimum when the sunspot activity is low. The more sunspots, the more solar particles are ejected out into deep space and thus more auroras occur on earth. The latest solar maximum was in 2001-2002, the next is expected some time around 2011-12.

  • Sunspots

  • Sunspots are patches created by strong magnetic fields on the surface of the sun. Since these areas are somewhat cool compared to their surroundings (about 1000 degrees cooler), they appear darker. Sunspots are visual indications of the process that sends charged particles into space. These particles may be captured by earth's magnetic field to create the aurora.

  • Solar Wind

  • A gas of electrons and ions - at supersonic speed - is continuously emitted from the sun. This stream of gas is called the solar wind.
    The solar wind is filled with gusts and gales, and when a strong eruption from the sun hits earth, the stable situation - which may have existed for several days - is strongly disturbed. The most spectacular result of this interaction is an intense aurora significantly closer to the equator than during normal conditions.

  • The Aurora Oval

  • The auroral zones represent the places on earth where auroras occur most often and with greatest intensity. It was the Swiss physicist Herman Fritz (1829-1902), in the 1881 book "Das Polarlicht." who first showed that the northern lights have a maximum zone close to 67 degrees north. He called this belt the auroral zone. Thus, the auroral zones encompass the statistical distributions in latitude of all visible, night side auroras. The more detailed location of the auroral zones is based on professor Størmer's extensive auroral observations between 1910 and 1950.
    The momentary, instantenous distribution of the auroras as a function of both latitude and local time were mapped by ground, rocket and satellite measurements in the 1960s. The best overview was obtained by satellite photos of the earth. Then it was discovered that the auroras display a continous oval zone around the magnetic pole in both hemispheres. Thus the auroral ovals are the regions on earth where the auroras are seen most often and with the greatest intensity.
    The auroral oval is nearly twice as wide and twice as far from the magnetic pole at midnight as at midday, about 23 degrees and 12 degrees, respectively. On the night side the oval is roughly 10 degrees (about 1100 kilometres) closer to the equator than at the day side.
    The auroral oval can be regarded as fixed in space with reference to the sun. As the earth revolves underneath, the daily variations in the aurora's position occur. In the Scandinavian sector you find that Andøya Rocket Range is located under the oval at night, while the oval lies across Svalbard during daytime. Halfway between northern Norway and Svalbard, northern lights can be observed in zenith both morning (around 0600) and evening (around 1800).
    Modern studies have clearly shown that the shapes and locations of the ovals vary greatly with solar activity. With increasing activity on the sun, the oval widens and spreads, mainly towards the equator.

    To continue checking out this and more please visit The Northern Lights Website

    Tin Whiskers do billions in damage

    What's a Tin Whisker you're wondering... Tin whiskers are electrically conductive, crystalline structures of tin that sometimes grow from surfaces where tin (especially electroplated tin) is used as a final finish. Tin whiskers have been observed to grow to lengths of several millimeters (mm) and in rare instances to lengths up to 10 mm. Numerous electronic system failures have been attributed to short circuits caused by tin whiskers that bridge closely-spaced circuit elements maintained at different electrical potentials.

    Tin whiskers are not a new phenomenon. Indeed, the first published reports of tin whiskers date back to the 1940s and 1950s. Tin is only one of several metals that is known to be capable of growing whiskers. Other examples of metals that may form whiskers include Zinc, Cadmium, Indium and Antimony.

    People sometimes confuse the term "whiskers" with a more familiar phenomenon known as "dendrites". Therefore, it is important to note here that whiskers and dendrites are two very different phenomena. A "Whisker" generally has the shape of a very thin, single filament or hair-like protrusion that emerges outward (z-axis) from a surface. "Dendrites", on the other hand, form in fern-like or snowflake-like patterns growing along a surface (x-y plane) rather than outward from it. The growth mechanism for dendrites is well-understood and requires some type of moisture capable of dissolving the metal (e.g., tin) into a solution of metal ions which are then redistributed by electromigration in the presence of an electromagnetic field. While the precise mechanism for whisker formation remains unknown, it is known that whisker formation does NOT require either dissolution of the metal NOR the presence of electromagnetic field.

    Tin "Whisker" shown above growing between pure tin-plated hook terminals of an electromagnetic relay similar to MIL-R-6106 (LDC 8913)
    Photo Courtesy of Andre Pelham (Intern)
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Why the damage?

    Tin Whisker Alert

    A failure mode is re-emerging that has been responsible for the loss of billions of dollars worth of satellites, missiles and other equipment - electrically conductive 'tin whiskers'. Tin whiskers can develop under typical operating conditions on any product type that uses lead-free pure tin coatings. Driven by the accelerating movement to lead-free products, tin whiskers pose major safety, reliability and potential liability threats to all makers and users of high reliability electronics and associated hardware. Existing approaches are not sufficient to control tin whiskering in high-reliability systems. The risk is here now, and unless decisive action is taken soon to fund development and implementation of a strategic action plan to devise short-term stopgap procedures and medium-term investigation of mitigation alternatives, serious consequences are inevitable.

    Ball Lightning???

    This PH fascinates my husband more than myself, but it's definately worth mentioning! So you were going to ask what ball lightning is? Let me satisfy your curiosity.

    From Wikipedia

    Ball lightning reportedly takes the form of a short-lived, glowing, floating object often the size and shape of a basketball, but it can also be golf ball sized or smaller. It is sometimes associated with thunderstorms, but unlike lightning flashes arcing between two points, which last a small fraction of a second, ball lightning reportedly lasts many seconds. There have been some reports of production of a similar phenomenon in the laboratory, but some still disagree on whether it is a real phenomenon.

    Laboratory experiments
    Many attempts have been made over the years to produce ball lightning in the laboratory, but it is easy to mistake other phenomena for ball lightning. Most prominent among these are glowing spheres produced by high-energy arcs between metal electrodes. Such arcs often expel small droplets of molten metal that are heated to extremely high temperatures. Because of their high heat content, these droplets will continue to glow quite brightly for several seconds after landing on a floor or other surface, and their odd physical characteristics can cause them to roll, still glowing brightly, for some distance after landing. They thus mimic the most common description of ball lightning before cooling down into a small speck of metallic dust. The most familiar instance of these glowing spheres is the "weld spatter" usually seen during arc welding operations. The spheres can also be produced when a switch carrying very large electric currents is operated improperly, or during certain grinding or other machining operations.
    Some laboratory experiments claim to have produced ball lightning, but there is no consensus that the phenomenon reproduced is related to the natural one. The natural occurrences are, by their nature, difficult to document accurately. Consequently, many scientists continue to dispute the existence of ball lightning as a distinct physical phenomenon.[7] In one such occurrence, Singer reports that staff at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge apparently saw ball lightning, although Brian Pippard, the Head of Department, was skeptical of its reality.[8]
    In February 2006, scientists at Tel Aviv University claimed to have produced ball lightning in the lab using a microwave drill and ceramic substrate.[9]. More recently (June, 2006) researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics successfully recreated the phenomenon using a relatively simple water tank experiment. The experiment involves two electrodes placed in a small tank of salt water, with one electrode covered by a clay tube. A large current of over 60 amps was then run through the water for 150 milliseconds, vaporizing water inside the clay tube and causing a ball of plasma to appear above the tank for 0.3 seconds. Although the plasma glows brightly it was found to be quite cold, much like a neon tube [10].

    Ball Lightning Explained from News in Science

    A New Zealand scientist may have finally explained the mechanism behind the extraordinary phenomenon of ball lightning.

    Associate Professor John Abrahamson, a chemical engineer at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, explains his theory in the April issue of Physics World Digest.

    Ball lightning appears as a glowing, hovering ball of light that moves slowly near the ground before disappearing or exploding. The ball usually measures about 30 cm in diameter, although two park rangers in the Australian outback reported seeing one in 1987 that was 100 metres wide.

    There are hundreds of theories about why ball lightning occurs, said Associate Professor Abrahamson — but according to his theory, there are several basic requirements.

    The first is regular lightning. Second, the lightning must hit a structure such as a building, soil, or a tree. The struck object must have a metallic or an oxide component.

    "Soil contains silicon oxide and carbon," Associate Professor Abrahamson explained. "The lightning reduces this to silicon metal, which is how we make silicon industrially."

    The silicon vapour condenses to form silicon nanospheres, which collect together in long strings.

    The third requirement is the presence of 'fulgerides' — long sausage-like holes in the soil full of hot vapour. These are created by lightning hitting the ground.

    (Pic: Copyright Ern Mainka Photography. Used with permission.)
    "The lightning strike on soil digs a hole in the ground, forming a very hot channel," said Associate Professor Abrahamson.

    "Geologists have dug them up afterwards and found them to be made of frozen molten glass oxides, often in the form of tubes."

    The silicon vapour is then ejected back out of the soil, forming a vortex ring — "like a smoker's puff" — which forms a sphere.

    Once in this shape, the ball can move long distances, said Associate Professor Abrahamson.

    "You have quite a robust structure, which continues to oxidise, and stays hot and visible," he explained.

    The layer of oxide on the surface of each of the particles slows the process down, until eventually each particle runs out of metal. At this point the ball either fades away or explodes.

    Ball lightning is not as dangerous as regular lightning, but it does carry very high levels of energy.

    "People have been killed by ball lightning," Associate Professor Abrahamson warned.

    "The metal in the high-energy balls will react with any water-containing substance, including flesh. If you touch ball lightning you could be severely burnt."

    Understanding ball lightning is useful because its chemistry relates to that of ordinary lightning, he added.

    "People haven't thought about the chemistry of ordinary lightning very much — this fills in that part of it."

    A special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in January 2002, edited by Associate Professor Abrahamson, added to more than 10,000 scientific reports on the subject of ball lightning.

    Like all the other blogisodes, this one too will be updated from time to time as research is done. But please feel free to ask questions and make comments!

    Monday, September 11, 2006

    MPR - When your compass points South

    For me - This is one of the most distracting scientific (PH) ever. And it may be that our planet is on the verge of it happening again! I'm no scientist though, so in this particular blogisode, I am going to input various segues about MPR and you can come up with your own assessments and contributions, by all means, comments are welcome! There will be updates on MPR added frequently - please stop back in to see if this blogisode has been updated.

    First off - Its very important to state why it is our magnetic field and our magnetosphere are so important to our survival. You may be wondering what drives our magnetic poles, our magnetic field and our magnetosphere - let me take a minute using the PBS Nova Website to explain - This isn't my explanation, you can read it for yourself here

    What Drives Earth's Magnetic Field?

    When an electric current passes through a metal wire, a magnetic field forms around that wire (see diagram at right). Likewise, a wire passing through a magnetic field creates an electric current within the wire. This is the basic principle that allows electric motors and generators to operate.

    In the Earth (see image below right), the liquid metal that makes up the outer core passes through a magnetic field, which causes an electric current to flow within the liquid metal. The electric current, in turn, creates its own magnetic field—one that is stronger than the field that created it in the first place. As liquid metal passes through the stronger field, more current flows, which increases the field still further. This self-sustaining loop is known as the geomagnetic dynamo.

    Energy is needed to keep the dynamo running. This energy comes from the release of heat from the surface of the solid inner core. Although it may seem counterintuitive, material from the liquid outer core slowly "freezes" onto the inner core, releasing heat as it does so. (High pressures within the Earth cause material to freeze at high temperatures.) This heat drives convection cells within the liquid core, which keeps the liquid metal moving through the magnetic field.

    The so-called Coriolis force also plays a role in sustaining the geomagnetic dynamo. Our planet's spinning motion causes the moving liquid metal to spiral, in a way similar to how it affects weather systems on the Earth's surface. These spiraling eddies allow separate magnetic fields to align (more or less) and combine forces. Without the effects caused by the spinning Earth, the magnetic fields generated within the liquid core would cancel one another out and result in no distinct north or south magnetic poles.


    If all the compasses in the world started pointing south rather than north, many people might think something very strange, very unusual, and possibly very dangerous was going on. Doomsayers would have a field day proclaiming the end is nigh, while more rational persons might head straight to scientists for an explanation.

    Fortunately, those scientists in the know—paleomagnetists, to be exact—would have a ready answer. Such reversals in the Earth's magnetic field, they'd tell you, are, roughly speaking, as common as ice ages. That is, they're terrifically infrequent by human standards, but in geologic terms they happen all the time. As the time line at right shows, hundreds of times in our planet's history the polarity of the magnetic shield ensheathing the globe has gone from "normal," our current orientation to the north, to "reversed," and back again.

    The Earth is not alone in this fickleness: The sun's magnetic shield appears to reverse its polarity approximately every 11 years. Even our Milky Way galaxy is magnetized, and experts say it probably reverses its polarity as well. Moreover, while a severe weakening or disappearance of the magnetic field would lay us open to harmful radiation from the sun, there's little evidence to date that "flips" per se inflict any lasting damage (seeImpact on Animals).

    It might sound as if scientists have all the answers regarding magnetic reversals. But actually they know very little about them. Basic questions haunt researchers: What physical processes within the Earth trigger reversals? Why do the durations and frequencies of both normal and reversed states seem random? Why is there such a disproportionately long normal period between about 121 and 83 million years ago? Why does the reversal rate, at least during the past 160 million years, appear to peak around 12 million years ago?

    All these questions remain unanswered, though experts like Dennis Kent, the Rutgers University geologist who supplied NOVA with updated figures for the time line, are hard at work trying to answer them. In the meantime, not to worry. Reversals happen on average only about once every 250,000 years, and they take hundreds if not thousands of years to complete.

    Even the weakening currently under way may be a false alarm. The field often gets very weak, then bounces back, never having flipped. As Ron Merrill, a magnetic-field specialist at the University of Washington remarked when asked whether we're in for a reversal: "Ask me in 10,000 years, I'll give you a better answer." So hang on to your compass. For the foreseeable future, it should work as advertised.—Peter Tyson

    Quoted From - Earth Magnetic Field Reversal - by: by Mary-Sue Haliburton - Pure Energy Systems News

    Seeing the powerful earthquakes such as the December 26th, 2004 event that triggered the tsunami disaster, people are looking for possible causes for the apparent instability of earth's crust. "End-times" alarmists and backyard researchers believe that the predicted imminent reversal of the earth's magnetic field may be a significant clue to these eschatological-scale events.

    Scientists have been observing changes in the direction of earth's magnetic field which took place recently as well as in the distant past. NASA’s website features a map showing the gradual northward migration of the north magnetic pole in the past century and a half. Since more than double the time interval has elapsed since the last reversal, compared to the time lapse between the previous two pole reversals, some believe we may be overdue for the next north-south flip. (1,2) However, though the interval between reversals of the Earth’s magnetic field can be as short as 5,000 years, it can also be as long as 50 million years. There does not seem to be any logic or rule governing the planet’s behavior.

    It is not only the direction but also the strength of this magnetic field that is a concern. In the time of dinosaurs, at an estimated 2.5 gauss, it was eighty percent stronger than it is now. This may have been one of the reasons such gigantic life forms thrived. It is now accepted that a catastrophic event ended the reign of giant reptiles. However, they did not re-evolve to equivalent dimensions. And the disappearance of mammalian “mega-fauna” in more recent times is still considered to be a mystery. The mastodons and mammoths would have towered over modern elephants. Why are there so few large terrestrial animals today?

    To continue reading this articles please Click Here

    Sunday, September 10, 2006

    An Introduction - Welcome

    Welcome to "Is Your Compass Pointing South?" A blog dedicated to weird scientific and pseudo-scientific phenomena. You will probably see the abbreviation (PH) through out the blogs. (PH) in this case stands for phenomena. Since phenomena is quite a long word to type and will be referred to and mentioned frequently.

    What are some weird scientific PH you might ask? Magnetic Pole Reversal, Spontaneous Human Combustion, Petrology, the Aurora Borealis and Tin Whiskers are all PH that will be thoroughly described as we go along... So stay tuned... We're just getting started!