Thailand's Naga Fireball Festival: Where Fireballs Spontaneously Shoot out of a River

by | May 28, 2010 11:18 AM ET

What better way to spend a Friday morning than researching fireballs?

Recently, CoolestStuff fan Verena e-mailed us about the Naga fireballs of Thailand -- mysterious fire orbs that burst out of the Mekong River 330 feet into the air every autumn during the Buddhist Lent. The weird thing is nobody knows who (or what) is shooting off the flares. In fact, nobody's ever known.

The Naga fireballs have been coming out of the water during the full moon of Lent "for as long as anyone can remember," according to TIME. In fact, there are written accounts of fireball sightings by monks hundreds of years ago.

It's a river and, for goodness sake, there's fire shooting out of it, so you can imagine that over the centuries people have thirsted for an explanation. That's where legend comes up to bat.  According to local fable, a Loch Ness-esque serpent in the river is responsible for the flaming orbs. It's believed that the creature breathes the fireballs into the air during the last day of Lent to pay homage to Buddha.

But the flipside of every mythical interpretation is always science, and science thinks the orbs are methane gas, according "Explorations into Thai Tourism." Thai pediatrician and amateur fireball researcher Dr. Manas Kanoksilp notes that during Lent, when the moon is full, the Earth is also passing closest to the sun. The strong UV rays and the sun's pull of gravity increase the concentration of oxygen near the ground. So, when methane gas bubbles escape from the river, they're more likely to catch fire, he theorizes.

But not every scientist believes there's methane gas in the river. And there are cynics who think the fireballs are a hoax (even if they haven't figured out exactly how the tricksters have been pulling off this hoax for hundreds of years).

I'm not sure which I believe in: mythical water-dragons, methane gas or human beings. But I do know I'd sure like to see those fireballs burp out of the river and into the night air. Wouldn't you?

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