The Light of My Life


Dear Mr. Dad: I was up changing my baby’s diaper last night and saw green sparks shooting out of it. I called my wife in to show her, but it didn’t happen again. She thinks I’m nuts, but I’m quite sure I saw something. Could I have?

A: You’re not crazy at all. What you saw was triboluminsescence, which is relatively ordinary—and completely harmless. In your case, triboluminescence (“tribo” comes from the Greek “to rub,” and “luminescence” has to do with light), may have been a buildup of energy caused by the friction of your baby’s bottom rubbing against the inside of the diaper, or from pulling on the tape. It’s the same chemical reaction that produces the sparks you see when you bite down on a Wint-O-Green LifeSaver in a dark room. You can replicate the phenomenon if you go into a very dark place, wait for your eyes to get used to your surroundings, and then strike two sugar cubes together as if lighting a match, pull apart the flap on a seal-sealing envelope, or quickly yank a piece of tape off a roll. tape. Unlike static electricity, triboluminescence doesn’t generate any heat. It happens a lot, and to my knowledge, no one has ever been hurt.