Min Min Light secret revealed by Dr Karl

LIGHT WORK: North West Star reader Daniel Parsons claimed to catch this image of the mysterious Min Min Light on his phone near Boulia in 2015.
LIGHT WORK: North West Star reader Daniel Parsons claimed to catch this image of the mysterious Min Min Light on his phone near Boulia in 2015.

Well-known scientist Dr Karl Kruszelnicki has claimed an Australian neuroscientist has solved the mystery of the famous Min Min lights.

The unusual light phenomenon that appears after dark that has often been reported in outback Australia is most-commonly associated with Boulia getting its name for a now abandoned settlement between Boulia and Winton.

While Boulia has been happy to cash in on the legend with its Min Min Encounter Show boosting tourism, the debate continues over whether the lights are a real phenomenon, and if so what was the source with one wild theory saying the lights may be the result of insects swarming that have taken on bioluminescent characteristics after being contaminated by naturally occurring agents found in local fungi.

Writing in Australian Geographic Dr Kruszelnicki said a typical Min Min light was circular, about one-quarter the size of the full Moon with fuzzy, moving edges, like a buzzing bee swarm.

“Min Min lights are usually white, but can be green, yellow, red or rarely blue,” Dr Kruszelnicki said.

“The fuzzy orbs can dance around erratically left to right, up and down and back and forth. Occasionally, a single Min Min light can suddenly split into two separate lights.”

He reported Australian polymath and neuroscientist Professor Jack Pettigrew had solved the mystery and was able to create his own Min Min light.

“He says they are real, but distant, lights – a fire, or bright headlights,” Dr Kruszelnicki said.

“Normally, you can’t see them, because they’re over the horizon, and too faint.”

He said Professor Pettigrew has proved a layer of cold air just above the ground between the distant light and the observer could trap light.

“This layer bends the light and keeps it close to the ground, so it can be seen over great distances,” he said.

“This layer of cold air can also concentrate the distant light and stop it from spreading – so it doesn’t get weakened by extreme distance.”

Professor Pettigrew used geometry to show a Min Min light was actually very bright truck headlights sometimes up to 300km away.

According to Dr Kruzelnicki, Professor Pettigrew drove 10km from a campsite and shone his headlights which those at the campsite reported as a bobbing light just above the horizon, changing from vivid red, to orange, yellow then green.

“As Pettigrew switched his headlights on and off, the Min Min light disappeared and returned,” he said.

“So these floating orbs aren’t combusting marsh gas, swarming bioluminescent insects, or even aliens. But light trapped in cold air is spooky enough.”