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What is Saint Elmo’s Fire?

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What is Saint Elmo’s Fire?

Saint Elmo’s fire is an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs both on land and at sea. The technical description of St. Elmo’s fire is “brush discharge” or “corona discharge.” It is a harmless discharge of electricity extending into the atmosphere from a grounded projecting or elevated object.

When the atmosphere that surrounds that object is loaded with a positive charge, the object will collect the charge faster than it can dissipate it. When the object is bursting with its electrical overload, the overload spills into the surrounding atmosphere as a visible glow. St. Elmo’s Fire happens around tall metal objects, such as lightning rods, chimney tops, aircraft wings, and ships’ masts.

The name is derived from St. Erasmus, the patron saint of sailors. The phenomenon was considered a good omen, but contrary to this belief, if you see St. Elmo’s fire, the only luck you’ll likely have is bad, as it usually forewarns a lighting strike.

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