Thursday evening, a fire broke out at an electrical station in New York causing transformers to explode. As a result, the nearby LaGuardia airport was out of power briefly.
Luckily, no one was hurt during all of this. However, the fire isn’t what’s on everyone’s mind right now. After the explosion, the sky was filled with blue light which covered most of New York.
There was a brief electrical fire at our substation on 20th Avenue & 32nd Street in Astoria this evening, which caused a transmission dip in the area. All power lines serving the area are in service and the system is stable. Photo: Michael Friedl, New York Times pic.twitter.com/vq2Ao46rhk
— Con Edison (@ConEdison) December 28, 2018
At first, it was unclear what had happened since the blueish/greenish neon light seemed very odd, flashing up in the sky.
This led to all sorts of weird theories and speculations. Some even thought that we were being visited by aliens. In the end, NYPD confirmed that a transformer explosion was at the root of this incident.
Transformer explosions are not rare, they can occur quite easily if the transformers aren’t well-built and maintained.
In developed countries, it’s a bit more rare to see transformer explosions because of the measures that are taken to prevent them, but they’re more common in developing countries. It all comes down to regulating electricity flow and the temperature inside the transformer.
Transformer explosions are quite devastating, naturally due to their large size. It’s also because of the presence of mineral oil inside the transformers. The oil is used for cooling and insulation purposes.
However, since transformers carry a large amount of electricity inside them, even a tiny spike in electrical current can cause a lot of damage. Although transformers have built-in mechanisms to turn off due to overload, sometimes it’s too late and thus, the explosion happens.
Temperature is a big factor too. Mineral oil has a pretty low igniting temperature at about 300 Fahrenheit. So, if things around a transformer heat up a lot, that can lead to trouble too.
The situation in New York seems to be a mix of both high temperature and overload as a fire broke out causing a lot of trouble. Fortunately, no one got hurt. Here’s a look at the explosion:
Explaining the Blue Light
Those unaware of the situation were also treated to the dazzling blue light that resulted from the transformer explosion. At first, there was a lot of speculation about where the light could be coming from, but it’s confirmed now that it came as a result of the explosion.
The blue light was caused by what is known as an “electrical arc flash“. Con Edison, the power company that runs the electrical station where the incident confirmed this in a news statement. What does it have to do with blue light? When a strong electrical current passes through air, the result is a strong or very bright light. This blinding light is known as an electrical arc.
The current is also high in temperature and as a result, it alters the particles present in the air to form a charged gas. If you’ve ever noticed a light bulb go out, you’ll see the same phenomenon at play. A more common example of an electrical arc is during a thunderstorm when you see lightning strike. Therefore, the blue light is nothing spectacular, it just came as a result of an unfortunate incident.
— EdgewaterNJ.Com (@EdgewaterNJCom) December 28, 2018
Although it’s not clear what actually caused the fire, it’s pretty clear how the blue light emerged over New York. The light certainly took many people by surprise and caused a lot of speculation. In the end, it was just something we’ve seen occur naturally many times.