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The study researchers identified an electrical current that flows out of some earthquake fault lines as the composite plates that constitute the crust pull away from each other. This electricity may be what’s forming the lights.
magma rocks tend to have crystalline structures—a byproduct of the intense heat and pressure to which they have been subjected for eons—and these crystalline structures are conducive to forming electricity when subjected to heavy friction. The electricity would flow to the surface, ionize in the air, and create flashes of light.
"You have two sides of a piece of continent are pulling apart and in the middle there's a part that just falls vertically down," often by miles over millions of years, Freund told LiveScience. These rifts form steep, nearly vertical faults that stretch deep into the Earth's magma, allowing primitive magmatic rocks that were once deep below ground to migrate closer to the Earth's surface. The authors think that because of the crystal structure of these magmatic rocks, when stressed they are likelier to generate electricity, which then flows to the Earth's surface, ionizes the air, and produces flashes of light. The earthquake lights also appeared at other nearly vertical faults, for example, the strike-slip San Andreas fault. These faults likely make it easier for electrical charges in these dark magmatic rocks to reach the surface, said study co-author John Derr, a seismologist at the Albuquerque Seismological Laboratory.
Lightning discharges in the atmosphere are familiar, but what about the ones underground?
...If earthquakes are underground lightning bolts, then perhaps seismic waves are the thunderclaps. In that case, it seems likely that the majority of energy release during an earthquake is not from the fracturing and movement of rock strata, but is the result of electrical energy detonating within the matrix.