The Atlantic

An Ancient Tradition Unfolds in New York

The recent light show over the city tapped into a deep vein in human culture.
Source: Melissa Coffey via Reuters

With a flash, the sky over New York City turned a mystical blue.

The spectacle, which appeared without warning on Thursday night, stunned observers. They sensed something was wrong—because, obviously, would you look at the freaking sky?—and quickly formulated some possible explanations. The theories leaned heavily on science fiction. Maybe the glow signaled the end of a massive battle between superheroes. Maybe it was an alien invasion. Maybe the apocalypse was nigh, and this, these eerie turquoise clouds over Queens, were the first sign that the end was near.

What people witnessed was much less.) to the station’s operator, Con Edison, the malfunction produced something called an arc flash. A powerful electric current shot into the air and sent atoms of gas in the air into a state of excitement. When atoms , they emit light, and different gases produce different colors. In this case, the atmospheric recipe resulted in a ghostly blue.

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