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From the files of the River Journal's Surrealist Research Bureau

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Great Balls of Fire

“Great Balls of Fire!”

 Imagine languidly cruising on a slow ship in the dark night of the Indian Ocean or the Persian Gulf. The sea is calm and an inky black. Suddenly, inexplicably, spokes of a brilliantly glowing underwater wheel spinning rapidly beneath the ship appear, with the possible hub of that vast wheel stretching out to the horizon. Several of these mysterious, glowing wheels may then appear simultaneously, rotating in different directions, sometimes overlapping. The entire eerie display may last for 15 to 20 minutes on average, until the fiery spokes disappear into the distance.

Seeing just one of these marvelous displays would normally be filed as a simple type of underwater UFO, but the amazing truth is that there are literally thousands of such reports, many of them witnessed by trained scientists or U.S. Navy warships on patrol. For some unknown reason 90 percent of such “light shows” seem to occur in the Indian Ocean or the Persian Gulf, though they have also been reported as widely apart as the waters off of Greenland or the Gulf of Mexico.

I can remember first hearing of the weird phenomena of the undersea spinning wheels of light back in the early 1960s in the books of the eccentric American compiler of strange goings-on, Charles Fort (Book of the Damned, etc.), and I thought then that it was one of those things whose solution would probably happen in my lifetime. I thought perhaps it was a strange sort of synchronized swimming by tiny phosphorescent marine organisms. Some vast swarms of lightning bugs in the Indonesian jungles, for instance, often put on incredible displays of glowing aerial nightly mating dances at certain times of the year and I assumed that as science marched ever onwards a prosaic explanation would be forthcoming before too long.

Forty years have passed and we’re no closer to an answer. Though a few tantalizing clues have surfaced, each one seems to raise its own questions. U.S. Navy warships on maneuver, for instance, have noticed a marked decrease in the luminosity of the “objects” as the ship’s sonar is turned on or off. Experts on the auroral displays of the Northern Lights have long noticed geophysical similarities to these underwater light shows and some simple, as yet unknown electromagnetic force can’t be ruled out or dismissed out of hand.

One observer has stated, “The effect on onlookers seems to have been a feeling of weirdness, bordering on fear. At about 11:30 pm there suddenly appeared on each side of the ship the spokes of an enormous, luminous wheel, each spoke 200 to 300 yards long. Each wheel of light contained about 16 spokes and made a full revolution every 12 seconds. I climbed to the crow’s nest for a better vantage point and although the wheels must have been 500 or 600 yards in diameter the spokes could be seen distinctly all the way ‘round. One could almost fancy one heard a swish as the spokes whizzed past the ship. In speaking of rays of light, I don’t wish to convey the idea they were mere ripplings, such as when schools of phosphorescent fish pass by, but rather, if the sea could be converted into a huge mirror and thousands of strong electric searchlights were shown across it, it would still convey no adequate idea of this strange, grand phenomena.”

Well, the phenomena I’ve just told you about are still being reported more than a hundred times a year by trained scientists, pilots, and U.S. Navy crews. Maybe too, some youngster reading this now might say to himself, as science marches ever onwards, surely a prosaic explanation should be arriving soon.

“Man lives on a tiny island of ignorance surrounded by a vast and terrible black sea of knowledge and it was not meant for us to travel far.” H.P. Lovecraft


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Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

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