Are they bad omens? A freak of nature? Huge, ghostly clusters of light – spotted from Australia to South America – have baffled scientists for decades
One of the stranger children’s programmes from the 1980s was Willo the Wisp, featuring an evil TV set, a Cockney caterpillar, a lumpy dog-thing called the Moog and a benign, diaphanous narrator, Willo. Doubtless lost to its young viewers at the time – this journalist included – was the inspiration behind the programme’s title.
Steeped in English folklore, will-o’-the-wisps have long been perceived as bad omens. These ghostly flickering lights emanating from marshland were said to lead nocturnal travellers into “dark waters” and even portend death. While the name will-o’-the-wisp is now widely used for any non-celestial spectral lights – regardless of topography – across the globe myths surrounding them are surprisingly consistent.