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Wednesday, April 21, 1999 Published at 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK


Peak viewing for ghouls

Lights over the Peaks: An age-old puzzle

By Roger Harrabin of BBC Radio 4's Today programme

Hundreds of people are visiting a new Website in the hope of spotting mysterious lights over the so-called haunted valley of Derbyshire's Peak District.

Roger Harrabin has his eye on the Peaks
Some are looking for UFOs. But many others are looking for evidence of what they believe may be a new scientific phenomenon - lights generated by pressure on the rocks in the Earth.

The site's video camera looks out over a bend in the road known as Devil's Elbow in the valley of Longdendale and is set up in the Glossop home of internet consultant Debbie Fair.

Eye witness

Once a month, Debbie hooks up the video camera to the computer and then onto the Internet, allowing people all over the world a chance to glimpse the Longdendale lights.

[ image: Debbie Fair primed with her Webcam]
Debbie Fair primed with her Webcam
"They are like ephemeral flames that sometimes light up the whole valley," she explains.

"One report said that a woman was driving when little balls of light began to dance on her dashboard and move over the car. They danced round on the back of her car, and then disappeared. She has never been able to explain that."

So far, the Website has offered little more exotic than cloud, rain and Peak District mist. Nonetheless, plenty of other people claim to have seen mysterious lights.

In fact, the Peak District mountain rescue team has been called out many times by visitors reporting lights on the moors in the mistaken assumption that walkers are lost in the night.

At Sheffield University, the journalist Dr David Clarke gained a PhD by collating reports of strange lights in the Peaks.

"There is quite a long tradition of people seeing lights in that particular valley, only through the ages they are given different names," says Dr Clarke.

"If you look at accounts in the 19th century or before that you will hear them described as 'devil's lights' or 'devil's bonfires'. As you move into this century they become ghosts and flying saucers - it is all down to the culture of the time."

No mystery

In many cases, there is a perfectly rational explanation for the visions. Some people do not realise that they have been looking at the planet Venus. Some are fooled by the flash lights of game keepers hunting foxes on the moors at night.

Outsiders are also easily confused by the light from planes on the flight path to Manchester. The mountain mist kills the sound of the engines but refracts the light, so they appear to be dancing across the ground.

[ image: Flash lights on foxes is one theory]
Flash lights on foxes is one theory
But some scientists believe though that a few of the lights may be genuinely mysterious physical phenomena, possibly generated by movements within the Earth's crusts.

"In Derbyshire there are numerous geological faults, mineral deposits, reservoirs and the weight of water on underground cracks like geological faults can cause movement of the Earth which could generate the sort of electrical magnetic forces that could produce the lights," says Paul Devereaux, author of two books on the lights.

This will sound unlikely to some, but people who have witnessed major earthquakes also report visions of lights in the sky.

The sightings were dismissed as delusions under stress until Japanese researchers captured them on film.

Dr Roger Musson, a seismologist with the British Geological Survey, says scientists are trying to solve the puzzle of the Earth lights through laboratory experiments.

"Some people have found that if you take rock samples and submit them to certain stresses and temperatures then you can get them to emit light, but none of the observations have never talked about the ground glowing, it is always lights in the sky," he says.

"So I really think there is some new sort of mechanism that needs to be determined, but what it is is anybody's guess at the moment."

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