Atmospheric Phenomena

Thunder and Thunderstorms

What is Saint Elmo’s fire?

Saint Elmo’s fire has been described as a corona from electric discharge produced on high, grounded metal objects, chimney tops, ship masts, and aircraft wing tips. Since it often occurs during thunderstorms, the electrical source may be lightning. Another description refers to this phenomenon as weak static electricity formed when an electrified cloud touches a high, exposed point. Molecules of gas in the air around this point become ionized and glow. The name originated with sailors who were among the first to witness the display of spearlike or tufted flames on the tops of theirs ships’ masts. Saint Elmo (a corruption of Saint Ermo) is the patron saint of sailors, so they named the fire after him.


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