Making ball lightning

Ball lightning, laboratory experiment, Gatchina

Ball lightning, laboratory experiment, Gatchina (Photo credit: yuriybrisk)

From the American Chemical Society

New insights into the 1-in-a-million lightning called ‘ball lightning’

One of the rare scientific reports on the rarest form of lightning — ball lightning — describes better ways of producing this mysterious phenomenon under the modern laboratory conditions needed to explain it.

The new study on a phenomenon that puzzled and perplexed the likes of Aristotle 2,300 years ago and Nikola Tesla a century ago appears in ACS’ The Journal of Physical Chemistry A.

C. Michael Lindsay and colleagues explain that ball lightning consists of a floating, glowing ball that may drift eerily through the sky and then explode violently, sometimes injuring people and damaging buildings. The balls can range in size from a garden pea to globes several feet in diameter and glow for up to 10 seconds. Since it occurs only once in every million lightning bolts, natural ball lightning cannot be studied with scientific instruments. Like Tesla in 1900, Lindsay and colleagues did their research by producing artificial ball lightning in the laboratory.

They describe experiments that led to more effective ways of making ball lightning, essential for further insights into the phenomenon, and techniques that made the fireball last longer so that observations could continue. They developed a special video technique that reveals more information than ever before about the structure of the lightning balls and how they move.

###

The authors acknowledge funding from the Small Grant Program of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

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Brian H

“Blob lightning” would be more descriptive!

Sweet Old Bob

Watched one float along a barbed wire fence. Lasted way more than 10 seconds.Finally “sat” on the top wire and “went out”.NEAT!

Gary H

Wow – I witnessed it back in about 1966 – in 7th or 8th grade. At the time lived in No LA. Late afternoon, had a wicked thunderstorm going on. Was laying on my bed, watching it out the window, when way across the football field (elementary school adjoined our lot) the ball lightening appeared to interact with a utility pole on the far side. Absolutely bizarre. The balls of electricity seemed to stream in an ever interacting line from the sky to the pole (difficult to say which way it was traveling) – then I seem to remember a flash — and then numerous balls were in the air around the impact for a split second – floating around.
Not a soul believed me. Some 30-40 years later I read about it, and said, gosh darn it – that’s what I saw.
Fantastic.

CG in BOS

I saw one in 1970. These are sometimes called ‘earthquake lights’ aren’t they?

Jesus Green

I also saw it once as a kid, about football sized floating just above floor height it followed the wall around a ninety degree corner and at the next corner after a short pause it disappeared. That said not convinced about reproducing it in a lab, that photo looks well dodgy. Liked the ACS site though. Molecule of the week indeed 🙂 Mine would be C2H5OH but they’ve probably done that already.

jackmorrow

I was an airline pilot for 35 years. I flew with several pilots from WW2 that experienced ball lighting. Most of them saw the ball start in the cockpit and roll down the aisle and exit at the rear of the aircraft. It seems that this was the common story among the older pilots. This must have been scary for them and the passengers. I never saw this type of occurrence but lots of static electricity that jumped from the a/c to clouds and a few actual lightning strikes.

davidmhoffer

If they don’t know what ball lightning actually is, then how do they know what they are creating in the lab is the same thing?

dalyplanet

I had experienced ball lightning in 1979. It came down and followed in the turbulence of the vehicle ahead of me for perhaps 10 seconds then angled off into the brush and disappeared. A little larger than a basketball and quite bright, less than 50 feet in front of my car.

Gene Selkov

If it is a ball lightning, I would like to see it go through a wall. Otherwise, like Brian H. says, it’s a “blob lightning” — the kind of thing you sometimes see fly off an arc extinguisher.
The real ball lighting is more like a wave than a thing.

I might have seen it. It was violet.

Karl W. Braun

I had witnessed one of these back in 1973 during a stay in Kuala Lumpur. It occurred within a dorm room at the university, darting to and fro several seconds while emitting a purplish light before abruptly going out. It was decidedly a hair raising experience, to say the very least.

“…natural ball lightning cannot be studied with scientific instruments.”
Then any attempts to duplicate it are meaningless. How would it be known that what is produced in the lab is accurate? It might look like ball lightning, but may be something entirely different.
Oh, maybe it is like a computer simulation – it doesn’t have to match reality. A consensus of investigators issues a proclamation that they have replicated it, and the science is settled. If natural ball lightning varies from lab “reality”, then nature is of discounted.

Mark and two Cats said:
“… then nature is of discounted.”
————————————————
-of
Shoulda previewed my comment 🙁

There was a fellow, Paul Koloc, who was experimenting with a relative of ball lighting he called “plasmak” – basically a confined ball of plasma. Exactly what the hot fusion folks need. I don’t believe anything really significant came out of that work, he died last year at age 75.
A couple notes – http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-03-23/local/35450481_1_physicist-fusion-process-limited-basis
http://focusfusion.org/index.php/forums/viewthread/1097/
Hey, is that a preview button I see?

Lou

Isn’t that a sprite? Hard to tell from what they are trying to tell us. I dunno. Dr. Peratt looked into it, i think.

noaaprogrammer

Could ball lightening be explained as some sort of spherical standing wave of plasma?

Rick Bradford

They should have called their grant proposal ‘Ball Lightning and its contribution to Global Warming’, then they’d have been awash with funds, rather than having to rely on a ‘small grant’

Jason Calley

Got called to a grocery store with a mainframe blown up after a lightning strike. Spoke to several people who were there when the lightning hit. All described how the lightning came through the front door and arced from one cash register to the next. Simultaneously there was a ball lightning that traveled down the main aisle toward the back of the store, made a right turn at the meat case and disappeared a moment later.

If it is ball lightning, why is he standing there in the room with it?

Anthony Scalzi

davidmhoffer says:
August 9, 2013 at 6:23 pm
If they don’t know what ball lightning actually is, then how do they know what they are creating in the lab is the same thing?
__
The same argument was made when researchers like Ben Franklin were trying to figure out what regular lightning was.

RoHa

The Gods send ball lighting to tease us.

Patrick Kelley

I saw it at SIU in 83/84. I was visiting a friend in the dorms called the Towers. A huge storm moved in so a bunch of us went to the end of the hall to watch. Three large balls moved quickly across the sky dancing with each other like braiding hair. They were traveling just under the cloud deck and would pop in and out of it. Lasted about 5 seconds. One of the coolest things I ever saw.

davidmhoffer

Anthony Scalzi says:
August 9, 2013 at 8:32 pm
davidmhoffer says:
August 9, 2013 at 6:23 pm
If they don’t know what ball lightning actually is, then how do they know what they are creating in the lab is the same thing?
The same argument was made when researchers like Ben Franklin were trying to figure out what regular lightning was.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Ben Franklin created lightning in a lab?

Anthony Scalzi

davidmhoffer says:
August 9, 2013 at 9:10 pm
Ben Franklin created lightning in a lab?
Yup, at least small versions with capacitor discharges. He had trouble convincing people that it was the same as lightning, just at a smaller scale, hence the famous kite experiment. He capitalized on his lightning research by inventing the lightning rod.

jeanparisot

I saw what I guess was ball lightning at Eglin AFB in the late 90s — started as ribbon or wave, then rolled into (or coalesced) into a ball and zipped through a hanger bay and disappeared. I had close to million dollars of sensitive equipment in that bay and spent an entire weekend checking everything.
If I had had a few things turned on, it would made a nice little report.

Mike Bromley the Kurd

davidmhoffer says:
August 9, 2013 at 6:23 pm
Party Pooper!

Mike McMillan

There’s a lot of ball lightning on YouTube

Randall Harris

I think they also call this phenomena St. Elmo’s Fire. About 20 years ago my wife and I were standing in the doorway of our house during a lightning storm and a lightning bolt hit a pine power pole across the street. A glowing ball about the size of a basketball (maybe a little smaller) formed on the high tension electric line attached to the pole. The ball moved along the line in a kind of hopping motion till it hit the next pole and then slowly descended the pole to the ground where it seemed to bounce around on the ground until it finally extinguished on the ground. That sure was the most unusual thing that I have seen. Unfortunately, we did not have modern cell phones then or I could have taken a movie of it.

More links to the article (and photos) are here:
http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/jp400001y

ROM

I see four things with this research, all of then good despite some skepticism shown above.
1/ Unlike so many recent claims about doing science, the researchers are actually doing real live science in the laboratory due to the impossibility of doing it in the field despite their apparent desire to do so if that was possible.
2 / They are trying to study and figure out the real time physics of an extraordinary, entirely natural phenomena which has deeply puzzled and usually frightened the daylights out of all those who have seen and experienced the phenomena over the thousands of years past.
3 / Models are a useful tool to help tease out the details of any complex event or situation but these researchers are apparently doing actual real time experiments not just modelling and as is so common in the increasing debacle that is called climate science and then proclaiming the model outcomes as real science as per climate alarmist science.
4 / They thank the Airforce Office of Scientific Research for the small grant program.
Which small grant, size is unknown it is true, but apparently the grant size is very far removed indeed from the climate warmists lavish grant category of some hundreds of thousands of dollars for individual alarmists who claim to practice science, ranging up to some tens of millions of dollars for still another super computer to model a climate that seems to be getting bigger and more complex faster than the climate modelers and the size and power of their super computers can keep up with..
The ball lightning researchers, unlike the climate castrophists seem to have been quite modest in their quest for funding.
Good luck to these ball lightning research guys.
In trying to find the composition, the initiation circumstances, the real time physics, the ending and so many other deep questions about the ball lightning phenomena, they are trying to solve one of nature’s great mysteries and one of it’s most openly spectacular and most closely held secrets.
And who indeed can guess or know the downstream consequences and outcomes if they crack the secret of ball lightning.

M Courtney

ROM says at August 9, 2013 at 11:18 pm… I agree that this is real science with real progress.
But I also agree with Gene Selkov at August 9, 2013 at 6:27 pm.
Ball lightning sometimes passes through walls and sometimes interacts with matter. Whether these are both the same sort of lightning is one of the questions that needs to be answered.
But this stuff can’t pass through walls. Therefore it is not necessarily ball lightning. It may be something else.
Now let me try the preview button for the first time.

Driving through a summer rainstorm in Wyoming in the late 1970’s my wife and I saw several bolts of lightening hit the ground and immediately a blob of lightening would hop into the air and bounce across the ground until, getting smaller the ball went out. We saw a dozen or so. The initial balls were as much as 20′ feet in diameter. It was a frightening sight.

meemoe_uk

Ball lightning phenomena can get much smaller than pea sized.
Eric Lerner has worked on the theory of micro ball lightning for 40 years. He’s been producing it in the lab for over 20 years.
These days he’s experimenting to create fusion power from micro ball lightning, since the smaller the ball, the hotter it is. So far the highest temperature achieved at his lab is 1.8 billion degrees K. Hot enough for light metal nuclear fusion.
http://lawrencevilleplasmaphysics.com/
http://focusfusion.org/

I’ve submitted articles to WUWT before on this subject, but they get rejected because once you understand that such temporarily stable electric arcs harbour environments suitable for nuclear fusion you suddenly have an alternative to the current theory of heavy atom creation. Instead of the centre of stars and supernova producing heavy elements, such elements can be produced anywhere where electric discharges occur.
This immediately gives a radically different view of the universe and of creation, and you find people dismiss you as an electric universe nut.
Can’t have that!
So WUWT has to pretend that the current science of ball lightning is far more primitive than it actually is.
Plasma physicists classify ball lightning as a naturally forming ‘plasmoid’.

Possibly 2 phenomena here. I saw several lightning strikes close up when I lived in Singapore. I recall lightning is the second most common cause of accidental death there. Anyway a lot of lightning.
One lightning strike I saw from 5 meters away, caused a spray of small bluish white glowing balls a few cm across that went 4 or 5 meters up from the ground and then dissapeared, very much like a firework, or dropping a rock into water causes an upward and outward spray of water.

Ian W

Rick Bradford says:
August 9, 2013 at 7:41 pm
They should have called their grant proposal ‘Ball Lightning and its contribution to Global Warming’, then they’d have been awash with funds, rather than having to rely on a ‘small grant’

Nearly right – need more practice in grant writing though – the rephrase:
Climate scientists report that Global Warming is leading to a significant increase in extremely dangerous ball lightning which in particular threatens aviation and buildings with electric power.”

kadaka (KD Knoebel)

From meemoe_uk on August 9, 2013 at 11:48 pm:

I’ve submitted articles to WUWT before on this subject, but they get rejected because once you understand that such temporarily stable electric arcs harbour environments suitable for nuclear fusion you suddenly have an alternative to the current theory of heavy atom creation.

and

So WUWT has to pretend that the current science of ball lightning is far more primitive than it actually is.

Okay. Sounds to me that you have just stated that Anthony Watts has refused to publish your articles, that he and moderators are actively censoring you, to maintain the status quo, promulgating current scientific theory while suppressing alternate (and better) explanations.
Well, sure sounds like you have two large shiny balls you want us to look at. But sadly they’re not lightning nor plasma, but if we slam them together quick you might see bright flashes!

John Wright

ROM,
Agree 100%
And meemoe_uk,
We might mention another person who has been working on ball lightening for years – Jean-Louis Naudin in France:
http://jlnlabs.online.fr/plasma/index.htm

I was in the shower one night and pulled back the shower curtain when the lights had gone out but then closed the curtain and started to go back showering when there was still light. Realizing that this wasn’t suppose to be the case I jumped out of the shower and looked out the window and saw a ball of light coming down the power line to the house then a big boom sounded. I’ve always considered this being either aliens or ball lightning.

Mike McMillan

Randall Harris says: August 9, 2013 at 10:48 pm
I think they also call this phenomena St. Elmo’s Fire.

St Elmo’s Fire is a fairly steady glowing discharge, while ball lightning seems to be a briefly stable form of plasma. We’d get St Elmo’s on the aircraft when flying through clouds at altitude, generally a lavender cone coming off the engine nacelles or small cones coming off the windshield wipers. Gregory Peck had some St Elmo’s Fire on the Pequod when he was chasing Moby Dick.

Steve T

Ian W says:
August 10, 2013 at 12:11 am
Rick Bradford says:
August 9, 2013 at 7:41 pm
They should have called their grant proposal ‘Ball Lightning and its contribution to Global Warming’, then they’d have been awash with funds, rather than having to rely on a ‘small grant’
Nearly right – need more practice in grant writing though – the rephrase:
“Climate scientists report that Global Warming is leading to a significant increase in extremely dangerous ball lightning which in particular threatens aviation and buildings with electric power.”
****************************************************************************************************
Nearly there.
Nearly right – need more practice in grant writing though – the rephrase:
“Climate scientists report that Global Warming is leading to a significant increase in extremely dangerous ball lightning which in particular threatens aviation and buildings with electric power.” More research is urgently required to reduce the impact.
Fixed.
Steve T

rogerknights

RoHa says:
August 9, 2013 at 8:36 pm
The Gods send ball lighting to tease us.

I call them The Pranksters on Olympus. I think they send other spooky stuff to rattle our cage too.

Richard111

Something wrong here. Back in 1957 I was doing military training in Catterick Camp. In the washroom one morning guys started shouting and swearing. I saw a spark from one of the taps. Someone pointed to the window. Looking out I saw a pale orange ball, about the size of a football, bouncing slowly along the ridge of the next door hut. The ball disappeared from my view, still moving quite slowly. A few seconds later there was an almighty bang! On recovering our wits and running outside we saw steam rising from a tree at the end of the barrack block. On looking closely at the tree we could see, at about roof height, a thin cut in the bark which ran down the tree trunk getting wider all the time. At the bottom the cut was about six inches wide and the bark was peeled neatly back from the trunk. There was also a small ploughed trench extending about a yard away from cut at the bottom of the tree. Steam was still rising gently. I don’t remember any particular smell. After some discussion we decided we had seen ball lighting.
I most certainly would not like that in the same room as myself.

Gene Selkov

Richard111: the damage to the tree you describe is typical high-energy lightning damage; maybe in the smaller range of typical. When a lightning strikes a mature tree, the water in the bark boils and explodes, splitting the bark. If the lightning is energetic enough, it can send fragments of bark flying in all directions away from the tree. In one case I saw, a beech tree was completely stripped of its bark and the fragments were scattered in a very wide area (more than 30 metres across); some got embedded in the adjacent trees’ bark.
The trench you mention could be caused by the explosion of a large root.

DocMartyn

It was common to see ball lightening is side diesel/electric submarines and in large bombers before the 1960’s. In both cases they use direct current at high Amps and shorts would give rise to the ball lightening.

I imagine that there is a minimum size to ball lightning due to surface area to volume ratio, as a small volume cools faster.
I have seen the lights phenomena on long fencing wires with very dry fence posts. My mother told of a ‘lightning’ burning a hole in the ranch house screen door. The ranch was across US-101 from Moffet field runway 32 on Coffin Road (a family name).
I have inadvertently made what appeared to be, and acted like, ball lightning. I was installing a 250 VDC 400 A rated power source, the cable was lying on the shop floor, when a distant worker violated my tagout and shut the breaker. The ball was about a meter in diameter and lasted long enough to travel the length of the compartment and up the access ladder to startle people in the compartment above.

Ed Zuiderwijk

From the comments I deduce that the figure of there being a 1 in a thousand chance of seeing one in your lifetime (in the paper) is a seriously underestimate.
The point that intrigues me are the reported temperatures for different spectroscopic diagnostics varying from 600K to 15000K. This may be partly due to effectively probing different positions in a region of interaction with a cold environment, but more likely it could indicate that the whole thing is in a stationary state but not in thermodynamic equilibrium. That would mean that the blob is constantly taking in energy (which is then radiated away) from the field generated by the electrodes while being suspended above (hence disconnected from) the liquid. Wireless energy transfer? Do I see a new technology emerging?

Martin

In response to meemoe_uk, kadaka (KD Knoebel) said:
“Okay. Sounds to me that you have just stated that Anthony Watts has refused to publish your articles, that he and moderators are actively censoring you, to maintain the status quo, promulgating current scientific theory while suppressing alternate (and better) explanations.
Well, sure sounds like you have two large shiny balls you want us to look at. But sadly they’re not lightning nor plasma, but if we slam them together quick you might see bright flashes!”
————————–
On September 2011, the very same kadaka (KD Knoebel) wrote:
” … It’s when I refuse to sign the Atheist Addendum, that God was in no way ever involved in the process, which logically must follow from there being no God at all, that I suddenly become an anti-science creationist, presumably a 6000-yr 6-day type. At best I become one of those “Intelligent Design” people. I’m also one of the anti-science Christian right (last two are correct), a redneck (yeah I have a 4×4 pickup, because we have deep snow in winter). I also often become a racist (only white people can be racists), anti-women’s rights, a homophobe, etc.
And these “liberal loons” wonder why I normally find it too exasperating to converse with them and try to find common ground, especially when “common ground” inevitably becomes defined as whatever ground they themselves are rooted to. Go figure.”
———————–
It’s really shitty when people who disagree with you accuse you of being a retard, isn’t it, kadaka (KD Knoebel)?

Here’s my take: It involves gas plasma ‘discharge’ and electrical wave (EM energy) propagation around a central ‘core’ utilizing a “Goubau Line” type ‘transmission’ of very high frequency (maybe even in the UHF or microwave region) energy continuously ‘propagating’ circularly around a conductive more-or less central circular core, e.g. a piece of conductive ‘dust’ (i.e. a metallic particle) … it might even be propagation of that same energy about a small central ‘plasma core’, which of course is also conductive (plasma, the 4th state of matter, being conductive).
.
A Goubau Line (sometimes abbreviated G-line) is a single wire transmission line (vs coaxial cable or a twin-lead or balanced open-wire transmission line) usable at UHF and microwave frequencies. The phenomena behind G-line operation is the one-dimensional case of an electromagnetic surface wave on a wire with a dielectric just above it (i.e. something is in place in the way of a non-conductive dielectric just over or above the conductive wire such that it yields a velocity of propagation just under the speed of light on the wire.)
.
Goubau Line via wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goubau_line
.
Animation of G-line wave propagation courtesy of Corridor Systems:
http://www.sonic.net/~n6gn/animation.htm
.
1958 “G-Line” patent filed by Georg Johann Ernst Goubau:
“TRANSMISSION OF ELECTROMAGNETIC WAVE BEAMS”,
.
Practical application connecting the RF from a RADAR mounted on the side of a tower to ground level via a G-Line: http://w5jgv.com/1970_tower/tower.htm
.
.

Robertv

I thought that the electric universe was taboo on the WUWT page.

Kelvin Vaughan

Did you notice one of the cows in the middle back of the herd rose up in the air.

meemoe_uk says:
August 9, 2013 at 11:48 pm

I’ve submitted articles to WUWT before on this subject, but they get rejected because once you understand that such temporarily stable electric arcs harbour environments suitable for nuclear fusion you suddenly have an alternative to the current theory of heavy atom creation. …

That’s odd, Anthony has banned me from posts on Rossi’s E-Cat LENR reactor until there is an acceptable third party review. (And given that Rossi is more interested in inventing and manufacturing, we may have quite a while to go.)
That’s consistent with his dislike of all extraordinary scientific claims that don’t come with equally extraordinary support. That’s fine by me – I can keep people updated here on “Open Threads” and comments in response to semi-related articles.
Did Anthony actually give you that reason for rejecting your articles?
And, umm, folks looking for a LENR update can check out http://www.e-catworld.com/2013/08/is-cold-fusion-entering-the-final-stages-from-oilprice-com/ 🙂