What Do You Know About St. Elmo’s Fire, Not the 1980s Brat Pack Film?

By | April 8, 2019

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St. Elmo's Fire glows blue. (pinterest.com)

In 1985, a movie called St. Elmo’s Fire, starring brat-packers Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Andrew McCarthy, and Judd Nelson, was released. Although the film took its title from the bar that was the characters’ favorite college hangout, it had a number of fans asking, “What is St. Elmo’s fire?” A rare and strange weather phenomenon that produces a fire-like light in the sky, St. Elmo’s fire is both magical and grounded in science. Here is what you didn’t know about St. Elmo’s fire, not the 1980s Brat Pack film. 

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Illustration showing St. Elmo's fire on a ship at sea. St. Elmo's fire (also St. Elmo's light, is a weather phenomenon in which luminous plasma is created by a coronal discharge from a sharp or pointed object in a strong electric field in the atmosphere (

Sailors’ Lore

St. Elmo’s fire is most often associated with sailing ships on the open ocean, for reasons we will explain in a moment. But because ancient sailors had not knowledge of ionized particles—again, more on this soon—they look to more magical explanations for the fiery lights they witnessed at the top of their riggings. Some mariners believed that the weird fire was the souls of other sailors who drown at sea coming back to warn them of impending danger. Others thought that fire foretold of the weather up ahead—one light meant a stormy sea while two lights meant the wind and waves would soon quiet.