Son of Low-Hanging Fruit (again)

In yet another example of  long-delayed discovery, forms of high-altitude lightning were observed for at least a century before becoming officially real (as opposed to really real).

Some thunderstorms manage to generate blue jets shooting out of their thunderheads, or  glowing red rings and associated tentacles around 70 kilometers up.   C T R Wilson predicted this long ago, back in the 1920s.  He had a simple model that gets you started.

You see, you can think of the thunderstorm, after a ground discharge,  as a vertical dipole. Its electrical field drops as the cube of altitude.  The threshold voltage for atmospheric breakdown is proportional to pressure, while pressure drops exponentially with altitude: and as everyone knows, a negative exponential drops faster than any power.

The curves must cross.   Electrical breakdown occurs.  Weird lightning, way above the clouds.

As I said, people reported sprites at least a hundred years ago, and they have probably been observed occasionally since the dawn of time. However, they’re far easier to see if you’re above the clouds – pilots often do.

Pilots also learned not to talk about it, because nobody listened.   Military and commercial pilots have to pass periodic medical exams known as ‘flight physicals’,  and there was a suspicion that reporting glowing red cephalopods in the sky might interfere with that.  Generally, you had to see the things that were officially real (whether they were really real or not), and only those things.

Sprites became real when someone recorded one by accident on a fast camera in 1989.  Since then it’s turned into a real subject, full of strangeness: turns out that thunderstorms  sometimes generate gamma-rays and even antimatter.

Presumably we’ve gotten over all that ignoring your lying eyes stuff by now.

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36 Responses to Son of Low-Hanging Fruit (again)

  1. Philip Neal says:

    I have often wondered why book after book repeated Aristotle’s doctrine of the unchanging heavens while nobody noticed naked eye variable stars, particularly circumpolar Algol. And for that matter, the supernova of 1054.


    New internet provider and new IP address. I hope my comments will still be approved.

  2. dearieme says:

    Chromosome count: another example?

  3. Cpluskx says:

    UFO sightings must be way too common to ignore at this point. Even i have seen the flying saucers over Black Sea from my balcony.

  4. pyrrhus says:

    “Presumably we’ve gotten over all that ignoring your lying eyes stuff by now.”

    Haha! Good one!

  5. sam57l0 says:

    Has anyone seen witches on broomsticks?

  6. Morris39 says:

    Richard Feynman raised a challenge in the 60s (?) to study atmospheric phenomena which he claimed were not understood and only left to the weather people (DOT). Not much has happened since. It’s much easier and less risky to speculate about multiverse and inflatons it seems.

  7. adreadline says:

    For some reason, the image Cochran posted, likely directly from the English Wiki article on upper atmosphere lightning (Upperatmoslight1.jpg), has the EMP phenomenon labeled “Elve” while the Wiki image has it as “Elf”. Everything else’s the same.

    • Kagzi says:

      Thanks for posting this. I thought I’d seen this before and was wondering if I’d wandered into a parallel reality.

  8. Bob says:

    Any thoughts on “homo longi” aka “Dragon Man”?

    New hominid? Denisovan? Something else?

    • dave chamberlin says:

      It looks Denisovan. Right place, right time, huge teeth like Denisovan, but before modern man swept the board there could have been pockets of other hominid species.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        I should have said different sub species, we were not different species than Neanderthal or Denisovans because we could breed. The family tree coming out of Africa is continuing to become the braided river delta where one population expands to almost completely replace the other.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      Here be humans by Razib Khan is a brief but excellent review of the latest understanding of the origin of our species.

  9. Aryeh says:

    Off-topic but we never got a response for this so I’ll try again:

    In many of your comments about Ashkenazi intelligence and how that came to be, you often imply there isn’t much evidence of the same in Sephardi or Mizrahi Jews.

    Well, there’s a group of Mizrahi’s called the Persian Jews which seem to be wealthier than almost any group in the United States (and have become so not through being real estate agents or celebrities but by becoming the best doctors and lawyers).

    Unless we are to assume that Persian Jews (among other Mizrahi and Sephardi groups which have also become very wealthy, some in professions even more requiring of higher intelligence than the Persians) are just the exceptions to the rule in wealth/income correlating to IQ, then I don’t see how the implication that Mizrahi’s or Sephardi’s are dumb or even average stands.

    It’s even been said that Mizrahi’s are as dumb as having a mean IQ of 89 (!) so assuming this is representative of the Persian Jews then they should be roughly at the same level as Hispanics in America.

    It’s ridiculous.

    • Anonymous says:

      Mizrahi jews are unlike Ashkenazi Jews not a homogenous group. Could be that some Mizrahi Groups have an higher iq than 89 and some lower (maybe Yemenis?)
      Selective migration: When the Iranian Revolution came, already one third/one half of all Iranian Jews had left for Israel, decades earlier. Only the Jewish upper and middle class remained in Iran. Those emigrated to America after the Revolution

      • Aryeh says:

        Sure could be they’re diverse but Cochran never makes a mention of that – he always has stated that Sephardi and Mizrahi are not all that smart without any clarifiers.

        “Selective migration“

        Ah yes that selective event where 25% of the entire population move to the US and end up doing (supposedly) much better than those in Israel.

        Except of course that they don’t do insanely better than their Israeli relatives, and that even if they were all within the top 25% of the Persian Jewish population (somehow nary a single one was middle or lower class) it still wouldn’t be much of a selective event.

        And you’d even see some regression to the mean since they’ve been in the US for generations. All in all they’d be not all that much better off than their Israeli relatives genetically.

        Selective migration doesn’t explain it.

        They are either way smarter than anyone has given them credit for, or their scoring in some selective subset of ‘moxie’ is so unordinarily high that they don’t need a high IQ to get rich. But even that needs more explanation because their professions aren’t car dealerships and real estate agents.

    • Jacob says:

      I wonder if ancient Mizrahi outbreeding has been measured — we know that Ashkenazi are 60% European, for example. If Mizrahi have been interbreeding & no special selective pressures are applied, you would expect their IQs to be roughly similar to that of their host populations.

      In this case, Persians are already quite successful in the West.

      • Aryeh says:

        Persian Americans could just as easily be highly selected for. They are also highly genetically stratified probably.

        Persian Jews in America on the other hand not as easy since they are 25% of the entire global Persian Jewish population. They can’t be THAT selected for.

        It doesn’t explain anything.

  10. Smithie says:

    Should we believe Nicholas II’s account of ball lightning?

  11. Rob says:

    Remember John Ioanidis, he who predicted less than 500 dead, then said it was a typo, and he had meant 5,000 dead, and then said that was a typo, and he meant 50,000 dead from COVID?

    Looks like he was speaking on behalf of Jet Blue.

  12. noname says:

    Greg, did you read this? Increased Male-Male Mounting Behaviour in Desert Locusts during Infection with an Entomopathogenic Fungus,

  13. dave chamberlin says:

    I am a total skeptic on all things big foot/ UFO’s/parapsychology/pseudoscience as most of us are. But there is an error in being a total skeptic, we become as closed minded as the people we mock. So I am bumbling around YouTube looking for thought provoking podcasts and I find Lex Fridman who has great podcasts with all stripes of original thinkers, many of them truly brilliant people, go there folks, highly recommended. The one podcast with David Fravor, podcast 122, made me rethink my take on UFO’s as total bullshit. The podcast is 4 hours long, I listened to all of it but for those with busy lives one can start this podcast at 1 hour 11 minutes.

    When multiple highly credible pilots observe craft and radar confirms that they are performing maneuvers that not only are beyond any known technology but defy the laws of physics, well then I have to become open minded about UFO’s that they might in fact exist.

    Yeah, it’s a rabbit hole, yeah the UFO people are by and large unscientific, and that is putting it nicely, but my mind is no longer closed to the possibility.

    • Gord Marsden says:

      I saw one in 1965 as a 10 year old kid, it was up there long enough for us to bring out our parents and watch it maneuver in right angles for about 10 minutes horizontally before acceraating straight up and out of sight in seconds ,55 years later I still scan the sky for a repeat,

    • Ghazisiz says:

      Thanks for the tip, Dave. And now I can also recommend it: not only does the clip work to increase the credibility of UFOs, but it also gives some insight into the world of naval aviators, which I found interesting.

    • Thersites says:

      If one dogmatically insists that every observed phenomenon must of necessity have a material explanation consistent with the ordinary and intelligible laws of nature, one will have a hard time parsing anomalous evidence of that sort. Once at least the abstract possibility of preternatural activity is admitted, a lot of weirdness starts to comfortably fall into place. For what it’s worth, here’s one imbecile’s best current guess at summarizing these topics, based on a wide reading of available eyewitness testimony: UFOs are real and caused by fairies or demons, not space aliens; Bigfoot is a real phenomenon of preternatural, not animal origin; werewolves (in the sense of malevolent sorcerers who make pacts with demons to alter their appearance in the eyes of men) exist but are extremely rare; and vampires might possibly exist, but are more probably just Eastern European folk superstition. Witchcraft and sorcery “work” in the sense that demonic entities will give an adept just enough confirmatory evidence to get him hooked and damn his soul, but the rituals and incantations have no actual power to affect nature in and of themselves. Some kind of latent psychic powers might potentially be found in man, but confirmatory evidence is mixed and inconsistent, strongly suggesting a preternatural or diabolical origin is more likely for any inexplicably accurate information that may happen to be obtained by a “psychic”. Spirit mediumship might theoretically be possible in a limited sense, but in almost all observed cases is either practiced fraud or diabolical deception. New information could easily change these pictures; I make no claim to be a Van Helsing-level expert.

      Demonic possession is also one area that is commonly dismissed as antiquated superstition, but for which the available evidence is actually quite extensive and robust- exorcists routinely employ all kinds of clever tricks for sussing out fakers and hypochondriacs. Undoubtedly, during the peak of superstition in the 17th century, many cases of ordinary schizophrenia and mood disorders were misdiagnosed as possession, but in the past century we’ve been more likely to make the opposite error- a fair number of people locked up in the booby hatch probably need a priest, not a psychiatrist.

  14. dearieme says:

    UFOs? Might as well believe that Biden won fair and square.

  15. Rob says:

    Greg, I came up with a villainous idea, and I’d like you to rate it on plausibility and villainy.
    This article discusses Soviets farming citrus in much colder climates than it is used to. There is also the magic of adaptation to artificial selection.

    My idea: Johnny Cocsseed. Would it be possible to adapt coca plants to life in temperate climes, if on did things like grow it in trenches. The end goal is cold tolerant coca.


  16. morris39 says:

    New topic please. How about “Holobiont” the latest buzz in evo vs eco battle? Could be amusing.

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