St Elmo's fire on Columbus's ship, 1492

St Elmo's fire on Columbus's ship, 1492

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Credit: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: St Elmo's fire on Columbus's ship. St Elmo's fire is a continuous electrical discharge that occurs towards the end of thunderstorms. The electric field is most intense at the tips of pointed objects, such as a ship's masts, creating a glowing plasma of ionised air molecules. Italian explorer Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) discovered the Americas in an epic voyage westward across the Atlantic from Spain. Columbus had three ships (flagship Santa Maria, Pinta and Nina) and 120 men, spending five weeks at sea. Artwork from 'Electricite' (1911) by Max de Nansouty, part of the 'Les merveilles de la science' series of 1867-1891 by Louis Figuier.

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