Capturing the Kopp-Etchells Effect

Last year, we contacted war photographer Michael Yon for an interview about his work in photographing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yesterday, NPR caught up with him to showcase some of his newer photos capturing what he is calling the “Kopp-Etchells Effect.” This strange lighting effect occurs when helicopters land or take off in a very sandy environment. It makes for some very interesting photography, to say the least.

The debate is still out on what, exactly, causes this lighting to happen. Some say it is the friction generated from the blades on the rotors hitting particles of sand in the air. Others say it is actually bits of the blades themselves flaking off — though, if that were the case, one would think that the effect would be observable regardless of the environment. While scientists are looking into the definitive cause of this effect, the name itself is a rather interesting story. Yon chose the names to honor Corporal Benjamin Kopp (US) and Corporal Joseph Etchells (UK) who died in 2009. Etchells had requested to be cremated and have his remains put in a firecracker to be set off over a park where he played as a child. Though the firework event might not have happened, he has been given a second shot at that legacy with his name being attached to this phenomenon.

Have any of you ever seen the Kopp-Etchells effect in action? Do you have any clue what might be causing it? We’d love to hear your theories in the comments below!

— da Bird