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This Black Smoke Ring Is Amazing, But It’s No Mystery

Is it a "portal to hell," or witchcraft, or just a puff from a smoke machine? A black smoke ring that was caught on video floating over northern Kazakhstan certainly looks eerie, but it's far less mysterious than the Internet buzz makes it out to be.

The Ruptly TV service posted the video over the weekend, and said the sight was recorded in the skies over the Kazakh village of Shortandy. The O-shaped ring floated in the air for 15 minutes, and then disappeared, Ruptly reported.

A similar black ring caused a sensation last year when British schoolgirl Georgina Heap recorded a video of the phenomenon on her smartphone. The "Black Ring of Leamington Spa" was eventually traced to a fireworks test at nearby Warwick Castle. Yet another pyrotechnic test created the same sort of black ring over Florida in 2013. A nearly identical smoke ring, sighted over Chicago in 2012, was attributed to an electrical transformer that blew up.

Creating smoke vortices generally requires a blast through a circular structure — perhaps from a factory smokestack, or a homemade trash-can smoke ring launcher, or a hippie-dippie apparatus specially designed for the job. Check out this 2008 video from the Burning Man festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, with "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" as accompaniment, and then ask yourself whether the Black Ring of Shortandy still looks so mysterious.

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— Alan Boyle