Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The Science Of Ball Lightning

21.12.2001


A spectacular phenomenon



This theme issue of Philosophical Transactions A (a Royal Society journal) deals with the phenomenon of ball lightning, a rarely seen and slow-moving luminous phenomenon usually associated with thunderstorms. A collection of previously unpublished sightings is presented, including close-up encounters describing the detailed internal structure of the balls. Many of these observations are from scientifically or technically trained people, probably doubling the number of such observations available in the literature.
A particularly spectacular image of a 100 metre diameter ball observed over five minutes at night in the Australian outback is presented and available for media use.

In addition, for the first time, sufficient believable evidence from a number of high energy observations has been put together to demonstrate that ball lightning, distinctly uncoupled from any normal lightning, can be energetic enough to boil away large quantities of water.



Competing theories

The issue goes on to focus on theories to explain the phenomena; theories where the energy of the ball is tapped from the electricity of a storm and stored by chemical means to be released during the lifetime of the ball.

The issue is edited by Dr. John Abrahamson of Canterbury University in New Zealand. "Different but strongly held theories of ball lightning are a feature of this theme collection," says Dr. Abrahamson. "All can relate to the wide range of properties ascribed to ball lightning and make stimulating reading. The three main theorists, all who have also done experimental work, are David Turner (an English physical chemist based in the US), Vladimir Bychkov (a Russian physicist based in Moscow) and myself (a chemical engineer). We have all seen each other`s contributions and have commented on them to each other, with the comments sometimes inserted into the papers in this collection. This critical confrontation has forced us all to broaden our thinking and some new insights have come up in the process."

The different models presented consider hydrated ions/ water droplets, polymer threads and metal nanoparticle chains as components of ball lightning. The corresponding energy releases are through ion reactions, surface electrical discharge, and surface oxidation of metal nanoparticles.

Discussed separately are a limited number of balls which showed high energy impact on their surroundings - above that traditionally expected from chemical energy storage. These observations and others where ball lightning passed through walls and window glass have been given new interpretations consistent with the nanoparticle model. This metal oxidation model also relates closely to recently made self-heating luminous metal materials with fine porous structure, which are the topic of one of the papers.

A penetration of ball lightning into flesh with metal particle oxidation may be the explanation for observed charred limbs, and also a potential explanation for the weird "human combustion" phenomenon.

Make your own `ball lightning`

Small bodies (less than 10 mm diameter) with the properties of ball lightning can be routinely made in the laboratory. Careful laboratory observations of these from lightning-like discharges confined within eroding walls are presented. These discharges reproducibly produce freely floating and bouncing small plasmodial balls with many of the properties seen with natural ball lightning.

"The experimental work described in this issue indicate that some of the conditions necessary for production of ball lightning are understood," concludes Dr. Abrahamson. "But larger `natural-sized` laboratory examples are still being sought. I, like the other authors in this collection, am frustrated at not being able to reproduce the full phenomenon in the lab, realising that this is the acid test of any theory. In spite of this, we all regard our theories as explaining most, if not all, natural ball lightning observations, in sometimes conflicting ways!"

Tim Reynolds | alphagalileo

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Abrupt cloud clearing events over southeast Atlantic Ocean are new piece in climate puzzle
23.07.2018 | University of Kansas

nachricht Global study of world's beaches shows threat to protected areas
19.07.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

The Maturation Pattern of the Hippocampus Drives Human Memory Deve

23.07.2018 | Science Education

FAU researchers identify Parkinson's disease as a possible autoimmune disease

23.07.2018 | Health and Medicine

O2 stable hydrogenases for applications

23.07.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>