On 21-March 2023 at 16:47 UTC, an M 6.5 earthquake was recorded in the Hindu Kush region, 40 km SSE of Jurm, Afghanistan (36.523°N 70.979°E). The effects were felt over a wide area in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and other neighboring countries. The quake was noticed at around 10:30 PM in the Haryana district of India, northwest of New Delhi. It was in the town of Yamunanagar where several people recorded lights in the sky soon after the quake and published these videos on social media calling them “earthquake lights” (EQLs).

There were at least three different videos posted to Twitter that showed a fixed spot in the cloudy night sky that is changing colors. The colors cycle in a uniform pattern across the span of a few seconds – orange-red-purple-blue-green. Then repeated. All of the videos appeared to be of the same phenomenon, in the same town, although different locations were mistakenly given in copied social media posts. However, it has not been determined if all the videos were taken on the night of 21-March in association with the quake.

Those that commented on the lights were insistent that they were related to the recent quake and called the sky colors “earthquake lights”. Several people online chimed in authoritatively to describe how earthquake lights form, as if they are a well-known phenomenon. The lights were associated with the flashes that were seen during the Turkey-Syria quake in February. (Those lights were not earthquake lights but exploding transformers.)

Headline from The Economic Times saying Earthquake Lights were spotted in Delhi.
Headline misinforms readers that an earthquake light was seen. No factual journalism was done for this article.

Media outlets in India reported on the lights. Some declared they were indeed earthquake lights (EQLs), with a few sources expounding on their scientific formation. In no instance was a seismologist or earth scientist consulted as part of this explanation. It looks like the journalists mostly Googled the topic. Across the web, random people gave their unqualified opinions. This is rather easy to do in the case of EQLs, whose reality is not yet acknowledged by the majority of earth scientists. If they do occur, they would be extremely rare. The mechanism of their manifestation is not yet established.

Those saying these sky colors were EQLs were entirely wrong. They were most certainly human-made lights.

The lights in the sky in Yamunanagar were caused by a reflection of surface lights onto the low clouds.

The giveaway for this is the colors. No EQLs have ever been reported to change colors like this and glow in one specific section of the sky. The source of the lights is almost certainly the City Mall in Yamunanagar which has a light display board that emits these bright colors.

It appears that any lights in the sky associated with the perception of earthquake shaking will be called “earthquake lights” even when they are manufactured, a result of damage to power lines, or storm-related lightning – I’ll call these “pseudoEQLs” because they are not a result of earth stresses affecting the atmosphere.

Videos of the pseudoEQLs are now so well known that people look for lights in response to earthquake shaking. When they find them, they are attributed to the quake because they have been repeatedly told by media misinformation that this is so.

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