Grounded Flight: This May Be the Last Place You’d Expect UFOs to Come From

Following the earliest reports of what became known as “Flying Saucers” in the skies over America and other parts of the modern world, some of the greatest scientific minds and most formidable government organizations have sought to understand their origins. Early analysis of eyewitness data led to an “estimate of the situation” by the U.S. Air Force, which produced the controversial opinion that some of these objects, later termed UFOs by Edward Ruppelt under the USAF’s Project Bluebook, were indeed extraterrestrial spacecraft.

However, to-date there is still no compelling, quantitative evidence which cannot be ruled out in support of extraterrestrial intelligence, its existence, and its potential involvement with the UFO phenomenon. Supporters of an extraterrestrial subculture rely on what is most often recognized as anecdotal or circumstantial “evidence” that supports a worldview which runs counter to what science can tell us about the situation; on the opposite extreme, the most skeptical among our scientific minds refute the possibility altogether that some UFO phenomenon might represent a scientifically quantifiable phenomenon, though perhaps one which has not yet been classified or explained.

Somewhere between the two extremes, there is probably justification for some phenomenon that does genuinely exist, and though it cannot be reconciled in the minds of the largely biased and diametrically opposed factions aforementioned, here remains a potentially rewarding area of science that promises to place researchers face-to-face with the uncanny.


We should be careful not to paint all the varieties of complex phenomenon that fall under the categorization of being unidentified flying objects with a single brush; even in the instances where mundane misidentifications might account for the phenomenon in question, the significance of acknowledging a multitude of factors and sources for the various “unexplained” object reports collected and compiled over the last several decades becomes apparent to us. There is, however, one element to the mystery that we will examine here which points us in an unusual direction with regard to studying strange illuminations that manifest in the sky: that’s because the direction we’re talking about here is the ground, and unbeknownst to many, the study of unexplained lights in conjunction with geological activity pre-dates the modern UFO era by nearly a century.

The science which became known as seismology in the middle part of the 19th century, and even among the earliest surveys in the field, aerial luminosities were being reported in conjunction with earthquakes. Irish engineer Robert Mallet, largely credited with being the “founder of seismology”, noted several instances in his “On the Facts of Earthquake Phenomena” where lights were seen alongside seismic activity. Some of the observations Mallet catalogued comprised anecdotal reports tracing the history of the phenomenon back to 1606 A.D.

Ignazio Galli, an Italian priest and scientist, wrote of similar phenomenon shortly after the turn of the century in a catalog of 148 seismic events he documented where lights also appeared. A moderate number of other scientists would devote interest to the appearances of luminous forms before, after, or during seismic events in the years that would follow.

By the 1920s, the researcher Charles Fort had begun to draw his own connections between light manifestations and earthquakes (it should be noted that Fort’s determinations likely were inspired by Mallet, as it is known that Fort drew from Mallet’s “On the Facts of Earthquake Phenomenon” series for reports of illuminations catalogued in his own work). Fort was followed by similar observations offered by John Keel beginning in the 1960s, who noted UFO reports that often transpired near areas where geomagnetic or seismic phenomenon existed. Researcher Ferdinand Lagarde wrote in 1968 that roughly 37% of UFOs reported in a 1954 wave that occurred in France also appeared along fault lines, which along with later research that boasted similar, and slightly higher percentages at around 40%, led him to conclude that “UFO sightings occur by preference on geological faults,” making them “scenes of delicate phenomena–piezoelectrical, or electrical, or magnetic, and at times perhaps of gravimetric variation or discontinuity.”


By the late 1970s, Michael Persinger was working with Gylslaine Lafreniere toward drawing similar conclusions, which continued on into the 1980s with the assistance of US geologist John Derr in the 1980s. A significant portion of the 1997 book UFOs and Ufology: The First Fifty Years by researchers Paul Devereaux and Peter Brookesmith (along with contributions from Montague Keen and Nigel Watson) devoted a significant amount of discussion to such theories in the book’s seventh chapter, drawing from the authors’ own past experience researching a mainly geological angle on the phenomenon.

Research into a seismic or geological component to aspects of the UFO mystery has continued today as well, though often recognized by different names. One notable example in recent months had been the co-authorship of a paper on purported “earthquake lights” by the aforementioned Derr, along with Robert Thériault, France St-Laurent, and Friedemann T. Freund, titled Prevalence of Earthquake Lights Associated with Rift Environments.” In the paper, decades of combined research based on historical analysis of the earthquake/anomalous luminosity idea results in a compelling case being made for the phenomenon.

Granted, some portions of the study do appear to show slightly tenuous connections directly linking illuminations with earthquakes, while omitting certain other data. For instance, connections are made between a 1916 earthquake in Waynesville, North Carolina, for which accompanying lights were seen at Brown Mountain near Morganton, approximately an hour and a half away. Brown Mountain is the famous home of an often-cited light phenomenon (arguably one of the most famous in the world of this kind), and yet an earthquake in Asheville, NC (just 35 minutes from Waynesville) did not accompany known reports of illuminations at the Brown Mountain locale. Furthermore, the famous “Brown Mountain Lights” are purportedly seen as often as several times a year, based on different viewing conditions which, if some phenomenon does indeed exist there, are little understood, at best. Nonetheless, these observations occur frequently, and in the absence of significant seismic activity in the region. It should also be noted that local legends of lights that appear above mountain ridges also have been reported between Highlands, NC and Clayton Georgia, particularly in the vicinity of Little Scaly Mountain, though lacking the apparent frequency of the phenomenon associated with Brown Mountain and the nearby Linville Gorge Wilderness.

As a final note, it is interesting when surveying the history of interest with geological phenomenon and unexplained illuminations that while study of purported UFOs is considered a modern phenomenon, the potential seismic component that has paralleled it actually dates back nearly 100 years earlier. Thus, in a sense, the modern study of UFOs could be viewed as a continuation of the study of varieties of natural phenomenon that scientists have associated with earth phenomenon since Victorian times, and for which observations may date back even earlier based on available literature. While it would be difficult to argue that all reports of seemingly anomalous aerial phenomenon are related to seismic activity, knowledge of this connection, in relation to some reports, could greatly increase our understanding of their occurrence, right down to predicting where and when they are most likely to happen.

For one example of anomalous looking aerial illuminations that appeared directly prior to an earthquake, the video below was made within 30 minutes of an earthquake which struck the Sichuan region of China in 2008:


Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
You can follow Micah on and