(c)1996 William Beaty
1. In 1993 at the Exhibits shop where I worked, someone was welding a
galvanized electrical box to a steel frame in an exhibit case. This was
unwise, since zinc evaporates at a low temperature, and zinc fumes are
poisonous. But this is beside the point. When the sealed electrical box
was opened, it was found to contain transparent blue-white feathery
material akin to soap suds but with no visible bubbles. I recognized it
as a type of aerogel. The welding was done adjacent to a small hole in
the steel box, and zinc vapor apparently flowed into the hole and was
deposited within the box. Apparently aerogels can form naturally; it
doesn't take bizarre triple-point high pressure manipulations to create
them. The resulting material was very strange: almost transparent, much
lighter than Styrofoam, and as fragile as dry soap suds.
2. In 1989 Corum and Corum managed to produce "Ball Lightning" using
carbon and a pair of large Tesla coils. They are of the opinion that the
resulting "BL" is a material made up of hot, incandescent microscopic
carbon percolation structure, i.e., carbon aerogel. See
3. Non-rare ball lightning. Approximately 3%-5% of people have
personally witnessed "BL." It's a common occurrence, although most
eyewitnesses keep quiet about it to avoid ridicule. Of the thousands of
BL reports, about half take place in clear weather with no thunderstorms
at all. If glowing spheres are coming in the window and exploring your
livingroom, we have no explanation if there was no thunderstorm involved.
Perhaps half of all Ball Lightning reports are about living organisms.
4. Organic life is based upon water-based, gel-like structures; upon
microscopic solids embedded in liquids. Life is based on gels in water,
so maybe life exists which is based on gels in air.
5. Trevor James Constable reports the existence of "sky creatures" which
live in the atmosphere, are invisible, move under their own power, and can
be photographed with IR film. And there have always been reports of
glowing "will-o-the-wisp" objects which move through the air, which depart
when chased, etc.
6. Birgitt Sattler of the University of Innsbruck is part of a team which
measured 1500 bacteria per ml in water from clouds. See
New Scientist article. If bacteria exist in clouds, then bacterial
"powder" must appear downstream of evaporating clouds, and perhaps some
life forms evolved to feed off this material. Bacteria can act as the
bottom of a food chain.
PERHAPS ORGANIC LIFE HAS AN AEROGEL-ANALOG?
Since it's not impossible that aerogels can form naturally, atmospheric
life forms might exist which are based on aerogels and electrostatics
rather than on water-gels and ionic chemistry. The gas-based analog to
ionic chemistry in solutions is plasma chemistry. Since unlike water, air
is an insulator and can support long-range electric fields, an
aerogel/plasma life form might propel itself by manipulating e-fields.
Vertical motion would be easy to accomplish, since the atmosphere has a
natural vertical e-field which would apply up/down forces to a negatively
or positively charged aerogel object. By spewing negative ions, a
organism would rise as the ionized air fell.
The existence of aerogel/plasma organisms would explain some reports of
distant moving lights at night, encounters with "will-o-the-wisps,"
bioluminescent patterns in the air over the Indian ocean, and reports of
ball lightning when thunderstorms are lacking. An aerogel creature would
be even more invisible than an underwater ice-cube, and might only be
when it causes slight optical distortion of background objects. If their
density was low enough, small aerogel fragments might be present in
quantity in the atmosphere without being noticed, since they would have
about the same index of refraction as air. If they were composed of
approximately the same material as natural aerosols, chemical analysis of
the air would miss them.
high-speed sky creatures?
SUGGESTED HOBBYIST EXPERIMENTS (as yet untried)
If the sky really is full of transparent invisible 'stuff,' there's a good
chance that conventional science has entirely missed this fact. On the
other hand, once you suspect it exists, it should be possible to detect it
with hobbyist experiments.
ELECTROMETER ARRAY: build a long linear array of electrostatic voltmeters
many tens of feet in length and mount it outdoors perpendicular to the
usual wind direction. Record the outputs with a data logger. If small,
electrically-charged objects should pass by over some of the
electrometers, the location and possibly the size and height of the
objects will be revealed in the recorded data. Even electrically-neutral
objects might be detected if they distort the natural sky-voltage. Choose
the location of the array judiciously, since these life forms might avoid
cities and cities downwind areas, might avoid (or be attracted to) bodies
of water, power lines, the turbulence of highways and their downwind
IR SKY SURVEY: Set up IR cameras to watch for moving organisms.
Inexpensive CCD video cameras and slow-frame security VCRs would make this
fairly easy to accomplish. Deep-IR CCD thermal cams might turn up more
interesting results, but at greater expense. [I've since purchased one of
these, but not tried using it for sky survey.] If paired with the
Electrometer Array, an IR camera could be triggered only when an e-field
anomaly was detected.
SCHLIEREN PHOTOGRAPHY: If a large telescope mirror,spotlight mirror, or
fresnel lens is available, an outdoor Schlerien setup could be used to
capture shadowgrams of possible aerogel objects. (It could also be done
using reflectortape and a
video camera) A laser or other
powerful pointsource is directed at the mirror from many feet distance,
and a lens is used to spread the source beam to cover the entire mirror.
A knife-edge is placed at the focused image of the laser and adjusted to
partially block the light. A few inches behind the knife edge, a
lens-less CCD camera is placed. Any distortion in the air between the
laser and the mirror will be projected as shadows upon the CCD camera (dip
your hand in alcohol and hold it in the beam, and the camera should see
your hand-shadow surrounded by rising vapors.) Even an object which is
99% invisible will show up clearly. View the camera output,
turn the contrast knob way up, and watch for moving structures.
CRITTER NET: if aerogel organisms exist, then there should be an
entire ecology of sky-creatures up there ranging from bacteria-analogs to
higher forms. We might be looking right at them yet not seeing them.
Perhaps these organisms or their detrius can be collected
with a filter? If a large cone-shaped net of fine plastic mesh (bug
screening from a tent?) is erected and allowed to filter material from the
breeze, will a quantity of "invisible" aerogel matter be captured? Mount
such a net on a balloon and go fishing in the clouds. Or perhaps a large
metal object can be charged to a few tens of KV and attract aerogel matter
to its surface from the air. How does one see an invisible aerogel? Use
it to deflect a laser? Let it make holes in a cloud of smoke?
Schlieren photography setup? View it with IR
CARBON AEROGEL: try generating carbon aerogels in air or in an inert
atmosphere. Cutting torches and electric arcs should both be tried. In
my original observation, aerogel was formed when superheated vapor
traveled through an orifice and encountered a cold metal plate. The zinc
aerogel was the equivalent of soot, but it was deposited so quickly that
it did not have time to pack into a solid white crust and instead built a
gel structure. Non-oxygen environment is probably required; buckyballs
and nanotubes turn to CO2 in normal air. If successful, try passing
electric arcs and capacitor discharges through these aerogels. Ball
lightning may be the result.