New insights into the one-in-a-million lightning called 'ball lightning'

Aug 07, 2013
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 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 and glow for up to 10 seconds. Since it occurs only once in every million lightning bolts, natural ball lightning cannot be studied with .

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 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.

Explore further: NASA's Firestation on way to the International Space Station

More information: "Further Insight into the Nature of Ball-Lightning-Like Atmospheric Pressure Plasmoids" J. Phys. Chem. A, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/jp400001y

Abstract
Known since antiquity, ball lightning is a natural, long-lived plasma-like phenomenon associated with thunderstorms and is not well understood due to its rarity and unpredictability. A recently discovered laboratory phenomenon with striking similarity to ball lightning is observed when a high-power spark is discharged from a cathode protruding from a grounded electrolyte solution. Whereas several investigations of these long-lived plasmas have been reported over the past decade, the underlying chemical and physical processes are still unknown. The present work attempts to gain further insight into this phenomenon by examining the effect of electrolyte pH on the plasmoid and observing the chemical and physical structure of the plasmoid using high-speed schlieren videography and FTIR absorption spectroscopy. The results indicate that the lifetime and size of the plasmoid slightly increase as the pH of isoohmic electrolyte solutions deviate from neutrality. The observed absorption spectra of the plasmoids exhibit absorption cross sections in the 620–700, 1500–1560, 2280–2390, and 3650–4000 cm–1 ranges, the last attributed to the presence of water clusters. Finally, schlieren images revealed a single, sharp density gradient at the boundary layer of the top and sides of the expanding ball-shaped plasmoid, and turbulent mixing below the ball.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study explains the mystery of ball lightning

Oct 12, 2012

(Phys.org)—Sightings of ball lightning have been made for centuries around the world – usually the size of a grapefruit and lasting up to twenty seconds – but no explanation of how it occurs has been ...

NASA's Firestation on way to the International Space Station

Aug 06, 2013

An experiment to study the effects of lightning flashes on Earth's atmosphere hitched a ride to the International Space Station on Aug. 3, 2013. The Firestation experiment launched aboard a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's ...

Recommended for you

First in-situ images of void collapse in explosives

Jul 25, 2014

While creating the first-ever images of explosives using an x-ray free electron laser in California, Los Alamos researchers and collaborators demonstrated a crucial diagnostic for studying how voids affect ...

New approach to form non-equilibrium structures

Jul 24, 2014

Although most natural and synthetic processes prefer to settle into equilibrium—a state of unchanging balance without potential or energy—it is within the realm of non-equilibrium conditions where new possibilities lie. ...

Nike krypton laser achieves spot in Guinness World Records

Jul 24, 2014

A set of experiments conducted on the Nike krypton fluoride (KrF) laser at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) nearly five years ago has, at long last, earned the coveted Guinness World Records title for achieving "Highest ...

User comments : 12

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Eikka
1.6 / 5 (7) Aug 07, 2013
How do you know that you're producing ball lightning, when you don't know what a ball lightning is?

The whole thing sounds like cargo cult science. Making plasma balls does not necessarily mean they are ball lightning, if the phenomenon even exists in the first place!
exBrit
5 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2013
Even rarer is what my (then teenage) son and I dubbed 'String-of-pearls' lightning - a string of several balls in a line persisting after a lightning strike - observed from our front porch for several seconds in the clouds above the Colorado Front Range during a major summer storm. I have never seen it described elsewhere but it was definitely real.
cantdrive85
1.3 / 5 (16) Aug 07, 2013
if the phenomenon even exists in the first place!

There is volumes of evidence on ball lightning. This situation is analogous to the sprite/elves that were reported for years by eyewitnesses only to be denied by "scientists" because there was no known mechanism to account for it. It was not until the '90's that they were acknowledged, now we have another "mystery" to solve.

As far as plasmoids go, err ball lightning, here is an interesting article that discusses them in length;
http://www.thunde...vidence/

The sun is most likely a plasmoid itself, ball lightning on an immense scale. There is likely a plasmoid at the center galaxies as well, at even larger scales. Some suggest the electron, and other particles, is itself a plasmoid.
Gmr
2.7 / 5 (13) Aug 07, 2013
Of course - it all makes sense!

That is, except for the part where in no calculation of the sun as a giant ball of ball-lightning plasma does it account for its mass, how that mass doesn't collapse in on itself, or why it hasn't already gone out without a true power source. A lot of which are true puzzles - of the late nineteenth/early twentieth century.
Shelgeyr
1.5 / 5 (8) Aug 07, 2013
@Gmr said:
That is, except for the part where in no calculation of the sun as a giant ball of ball-lightning plasma does it account for its mass, how that mass doesn't collapse in on itself, or why it hasn't already gone out without a true power source.


Really? Well in *this* particular article, yeah. But out in the wild? You've managed to be wrong three times in one sentence.

Oh and don't take that statement to mean that I'm saying you are wrong about Reality (although I think you are), I'm merely saying that you're wrong on the face of things. I.e. you may think they're incorrect, but A) such calculations accounting for its mass do exist, B) ditto why it doesn't collapse, and C) regarding its power source.

Sorry Gmr, but serious learned people have been working on the alternate theories for something like a century. This isn't an "appeal to authority", i.e. that alone doesn't prove them right on the facts. But it makes you wrong with your "no calculation" statement.
Gmr
1.9 / 5 (9) Aug 07, 2013

Sorry Gmr, but serious learned people have been working on the alternate theories for something like a century. This isn't an "appeal to authority", i.e. that alone doesn't prove them right on the facts. But it makes you wrong with your "no calculation" statement


So, either the people who have done the real science to actually back up the theories that have resulted in our being able to actually replicate nuclear fusion, all that was talk? Or they weren't the "serious learned people?"

In this case the "something like a century" sounds like, well, beating a dead horse long after it's turned to dust. I'm not taking you seriously, if you can't tell. Partly because these theories were well and truly debunked long ago by, well, experimental evidence. And partly because you seem to come off as something of a self-aggrandizing patronizing blowhard.
Shelgeyr
1.4 / 5 (10) Aug 07, 2013
@Gmr: I *am* a self-aggrandizing patronizing blowhard! I faced it, embraced it, and made it my trademark!

You, on the other hand, use phrases like "the people who have done the real science" in ways that are not only laughable, but are offered in ignorance of what the opposition actually has done and is doing.

Your example of "being able to actually replicate nuclear fusion" is a typical false lead. It neither proves your side nor disproves our side, since both acknowledge the reality of fusion, and there is significant overlap (if not complete agreement) regarding our understanding of the equations, requirements, and constraints involved in achieving fusion in both man-made and completely natural circumstances.

Which, by the way, is a typically long-winded way for me to say that nobody on either side denies fusion is taking place in or on the sun. But the details...
Shelgeyr
1.4 / 5 (10) Aug 07, 2013
Of course, I'm not taking you seriously, if you can't tell. Partly because people like you have long been claiming that our side's theories have been "well and truly debunked long ago", while offering no evidence to back up their claim because nothing could be further from the truth, and also because, well, the experimental evidence is on our side, and it continues to grow. And partly because you seem to come off as a reliably-parroting cargo-culter who only and gladly accepts what you're spoon-fed before regurgitating it here.
Gmr
3 / 5 (8) Aug 08, 2013
There is no side, there is science and experiment.

Failures like Phlogiston are relegated to the dustbin of history.

Feel free to keep dumpster-diving, though.
cantdrive85
1.4 / 5 (10) Aug 08, 2013
There is no side, there is science and experiment.

Failures like Phlogiston are relegated to the dustbin of history.

Feel free to keep dumpster-diving, though.

The sockpuppet is slowly revealing himself. Does the sophist return?
Gmr
1 / 5 (3) Aug 08, 2013
There is no side, there is science and experiment.

Failures like Phlogiston are relegated to the dustbin of history.

Feel free to keep dumpster-diving, though.

The sockpuppet is slowly revealing himself. Does the sophist return?

Tired accusations of sockpuppetry do not make EU/PU any closer to being aught but a fever dream. No assurance from me that I am myself, an individual, can disabuse you of the idea that I am a sockpuppet once you've sunk in your teeth. That much is obvious from the other delusional illogical concepts you cling to with fervor. Have fun.
Moebius
5 / 5 (1) Aug 11, 2013
Interesting article if I understand it. Evidently the material of the ball is coming from what is struck by the lightning. I was always skeptical of them because I thought they were created in the air and didn't think just our atmospheric gases would create one. If they are formed from what is struck they could be made of almost anything which makes it much more plausible to me.