Plasma Critters in the Atmosphere? ©1996 William Beaty

Gathering Threads

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 metal evaporates at a fairly low flame 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. Years later recognized it as a type of aerogel, a percolation-structure of zinc nanofilaments (or perhaps ZnO dendrites.) The welding had been done adjacent to a small hole in the steel box, and zinc vapor apparently flowed into the hole and was deposited within the box. I've heard that acetylene flame or burning styrene plastic can do similar, but forming black carbon aerogel. Apparently aerogels can form naturally from rapid vapor-concensation; it doesn't take bizarre triple-point high pressure manipulations to create them. The resulting zinc material was very strange: light blue, 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. If low mass, and not easily disrupted like smoke clouds, then such things might take the form of spheres.

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 emulsion-based 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. Airborne bacteria breeding in clouds can act as the bottom of a food chain.


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 internal ion density and therefore 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 positive ions, a negatively-charged organism would rise as the ionized air fell. (It turns out that baby spiders use just this tactic to travel large distances, extending negative-charged web segments which give electrostatic lift while "ballooning.")

The existence of aerogel/plasma organisms, if their internal chemistry involves any visible-wavelengths fluoresence, would explain some reports of distant moving lights at night, encounters with "will-o-the-wisps," the apparently-bioluminescent patterns in the air over the Indian ocean, and reports of ball lightning when thunderstorms are lacking. Does gas-phase chemistry emit fluorescent lines, particularly NIR lines? A camera with line-filters for known gas-phase reactions might see all sorts of glowing creatures. But if no fluorescence, an aerogel creature would be even more invisible than an underwater ice-cube, and might only be detectable 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.

SEE: high-speed sky creatures?


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 equipment.

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 plumes, might avoid (or be attracted to) bodies of water, power lines, the turbulence of highways and their downwind CO2 and pollution plumes etc.

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.

ATMOSPHERIC 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 panel and a video camera) A spread-out 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. [June 2015 Alternative: a very large version using a line-source illuminator, thin cylinder lenses or bent mirror-strips, optical slit, linear CCD, etc., could be set up perpendicular to the wind, and record a fairly vast area of ground-level atmosphere in Schelerien mode, while letting the wind "scan the volume" and produce 2D raster images of any invisible structures transported through the optical plane.]

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 cameras?

DEAD AEROGEL CREATURES ON THE GROUND: Aerogel is wettable, and sucks up water like a sponge. Critters would require a membrane and humidistat/homeostasis to avoid being quickly weighted down with liquid water. On the other hand, this might produce a common event: a dead "critter" on the ground, if not destroyed by actual raindrops, would no longer maintain internal dry conditions and instead accumulate fog or even morning condensation, and turn into something resembling frog-egg jelly, but without the eggs. In other words, the aerogel quickly turns to normal gel if left outdoors. Mysterious jellys with no obvious origin. Upon evaporation the material would seemingly vanish, just like hagfish mucus or syrupy agar-gel does when dried. The solid matter is so little when compared to the liquid, that the remaining dry traces may not even be visible by eye.

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 metal 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 compact into a bulk 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.
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