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 A collection of previously unpublished sightings is presented, including close-up encounters describing the detailed internal structure of the balls.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 Hundreds of bubble streams link biology, seismology off Washington's coast
22.03.2019 | University of Washington

nachricht Atmospheric scientists reveal the effect of sea-ice loss on Arctic warming
11.03.2019 | Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: The taming of the light screw

DESY and MPSD scientists create high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might find intriguing applications in petahertz electronics and for spectroscopic studies of novel quantum materials.

The nonlinear process of high-order harmonic generation (HHG) in gases is one of the cornerstones of attosecond science (an attosecond is a billionth of a...

Im Focus: Magnetic micro-boats

Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.

The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...

Im Focus: Self-healing coating made of corn starch makes small scratches disappear through heat

Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.

Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...

Im Focus: Stellar cartography

The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.

A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...

Im Focus: Heading towards a tsunami of light

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International Modelica Conference with 330 visitors from 21 countries at OTH Regensburg

11.03.2019 | Event News

Selection Completed: 580 Young Scientists from 88 Countries at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

01.03.2019 | Event News

LightMAT 2019 – 3rd International Conference on Light Materials – Science and Technology

28.02.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Solving the efficiency of Gram-negative bacteria

22.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Bacteria bide their time when antibiotics attack

22.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Open source software helps researchers extract key insights from huge sensor datasets

22.03.2019 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>