Scientists observe a new quantum particle with properties of ball lightning

March 2, 2018, Aalto University
Artistic impression of a quantum ball lighting. Credit: Heikka Valja

Scientists at Amherst College and Aalto University have created, for the first time a three-dimensional skyrmion in a quantum gas. The skyrmion was predicted theoretically over 40 years ago, but only now has it been observed experimentally.

In an extremely sparse and cold , the physicists have created knots made of the magnetic moments, or spins, of the constituent atoms. The knots exhibit many of the characteristics of , which some scientists believe to consist of tangled streams of . The persistence of such knots could be the reason why ball lightning, a ball of plasma, lives for a surprisingly long time in comparison to a lightning strike. The new results could inspire new ways of keeping plasma intact in a stable ball in fusion reactors.

'It is remarkable that we could create the synthetic electromagnetic knot, that is, quantum ball lightning, essentially with just two counter-circulating electric currents. Thus, it may be possible that a natural ball lighting could arise in a normal ,' says Dr Mikko Möttönen, leader of the theoretical effort at Aalto University.

Möttönen also recalls having witnessed a ball lightning briefly glaring in his grandparents' house. Observations of ball lightning have been reported throughout history, but physical evidence is rare.

The dynamics of the quantum gas matches that of a charged particle responding to the electromagnetic fields of a ball lightning.

Side view of the experimental creation of a 3-D skyrmion. The imaging method produces three regions where the spins point up (right), horizontally (center), and down (left). In the actual experiment, there is only a single condensate which contains all these different regions. Brighter color denotes a higher particle density. Credit: Tuomas Ollikainen
'The quantum gas is cooled down to a very low temperature where it forms a Bose-Einstein condensate: all atoms in the gas end up in the state of minimum energy. The state does not behave like an ordinary gas anymore but like a single giant atom,' explains Professor David Hall, leader of the experimental effort at Amherst College.

The skyrmion is created first by polarizing the spin of each atom to point upward along an applied natural . Then, the applied field is suddenly changed in such a way that a point where the field vanishes appears in the middle of the condensate. Consequently, the spins of the atoms start to rotate in the new direction of the applied field at their respective locations. Since the magnetic field points in all possible directions near the field zero, the spins wind into a knot.

The knotted structure of the skyrmion consists of linked loops, at each of which all the spins point to a certain fixed direction. The knot can be loosened or moved, but not untied.

'What makes this a skyrmion rather than a quantum knot is that not only does the spin twist but the phase of the condensate winds repeatedly,' says Hall.

If the direction of the spin is changing in space, the velocity of the condensate responds just as would happen for a charged particle in a magnetic field. The knotted spin structure thus gives rise to a knotted artificial magnetic field that exactly matches the magnetic field in a model of ball lightning.

'More research is needed to know whether or not it is also possible to create a real ball lightning with a method of this kind. Further studies could lead to finding a solution to keep plasma together efficiently and enable more stable fusion reactors than we have now,' Möttönen explains.

Explore further: Scientists confirm existence of quantum knots and create them in a quantum-mechanical field

More information: W. Lee, A.H. Gheorghe, K. Tiurev, T. Ollikainen, M. Möttönen, and D.S. Hall, Synthetic Electromagnetic Knot in a Three-Dimensional Skyrmion, Science Advances 4, eaao3820 (2018).

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3.5 / 5 (4) Mar 02, 2018
The very existence of ball lightning demonstrates that it is possible to keep a ball of plasma contained for several minutes at least. Without making contact to its container.

I have no feeling that this will lead to fusion reactors in my lifetime. But it certainly gives me a very confident feeling that eventually, fusion power will be a reality.
4 / 5 (4) Mar 02, 2018
Agreed, 50 years ago I arrived at U of W nuclear engineering school and was told that fusion power was "just around the corner."
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 02, 2018
A vortex has no corners.
2 / 5 (4) Mar 02, 2018
Well gkam. I vaguely remember long-ago cartoons of the Tasmanian Devil Vortex 'cornering' obstacles.

Obviously visual proof that EU woo is true!

An alliteration a day, is my way to play.
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2018
am i the only one thinking: sho-ryu-Ken right now :D (street fighter ken & ryu fire ball).
jokes aside, the electric model is winning the race hands down, feet up, and a bottomless jug of beer in hand. (i had one more joke apparently)
but hey, that's what happens when you chose cause over effect.
it's magnificent i must say.

+gkam indeed!
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2018
An electric field with current and no source!
This could lead to a new type of weapon, unlimited projectiles!
3 / 5 (2) Mar 02, 2018
Funny, there's no video or photos of ball lightning. Plenty of high-quality video of asteroid strikes, lightning strikes, and other unusual events, but ever since everyone on the planet started carrying around high-quality cameras, it's like ball lightning stopped happening.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 02, 2018
An electric field with current and no source!
This could lead to a new type of weapon, unlimited projectiles!

You'll have to get out of bed much earlier, so to speak, Ha!
Or how about Marauder, US research into to plasma type guns.
However, I do agree that if civil research discovers the underlying principles then such weapons would quickly become military hardware.
1 / 5 (4) Mar 03, 2018
PTTG, I do not understand it but it is real. My father had one come off the right engine of a C-47 while flying gasoline to Gen. Patton's tanks,and bounce around the cockpit before going away in a flash.

Got their attention.
1 / 5 (2) Mar 03, 2018
gkam, the rare, non-alcohol fueled report, including yours, brings a question to mind.

I've been a passenger on those old MATS flying outhouses. Transiting storms. The skin of the planes leaked like a sieve. Lightning was visible through the holes in the skin and thundered loudly!

Your father's C47 hauling fuel did not explode, obviously. Was there any damage to the control or radio electronics?

Cause that is my question. The phenomena known as ball lightning does not act upon materials as electrical discharges I have experienced. For instance, no scorch marks on vegetation or people. No melted puddles of metal, sand, etc.

Could Ball Lightning be some phenomena other than electrical? Maybe magnetic but not electrical discharge?

Is it possible that the term ball lightning is confusing the evidence, That maybe there is more than one type of visible occurrence? And poor reporting is confusing the multiple realities of these events?
3 / 5 (2) Mar 03, 2018
I like that question. Could ball 'lightening' be something else like a soliton? I looked up soliton and read 'if magnetic monopoles exist then electric charge must be quantized; as in multiples of a single unit aka hologram.
1 / 5 (4) Mar 03, 2018
rrw, he told me it formed on the propeller tips and broke loose to come in the right window. It bounced twice or three times and hit the door to the cockpit and broke into a flash.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 03, 2018
Funny, there's no video or photos of ball lightning. Plenty of high-quality video of asteroid strikes, lightning strikes, and other unusual events, but ever since everyone on the planet started carrying around high-quality cameras, it's like ball lightning stopped happening.

Vampires can't be photographed and there are no photos of vampires, thus vampires must be real. :D
1 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2018
Just percolated up another question.

Most reported sightings of phenomena such as ball lightning, St. Elmo's ire and similar events seem to occur in marshes. Cold and damp and the gases produced by rotting vegetation triggering a visual effect different than the electrical static of propeller blades in precipitation at altitude?
1 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2018
George K. aka gkam

a C-47 while flying gasoline to Gen. Patton's tanks

So the Red Ball Express hauled gas to the planes and then the Red Ball Express then reloaded the gas onto trucks and drove it to the tanks. Just like the Berlin Airlift, right?

BS you're a liar.

Patton stopped because the fuel was held north for the British. Patton's movement was stopped by Ike.

Or was he carrying hydrazine for the X-15?
1 / 5 (4) Mar 05, 2018
There was no Red Ball express to serve Patton. The aircraft found the tanks and landed in fields to unload.

My god, get a grip. Then look up the 440th Troop Carrier Wing. The pictures of their work in the Battle of the Bulge are in their publication.

BTW, there is a C-47 emplaced now on Point du Hoc, with the number 9X under the window. There could not have been more than a few with that number out of the tens of thousands flying then. It was the squadron of my father.

1 / 5 (2) Mar 05, 2018
gkam, new question:

... he told me it formed on the propeller tips and broke loose to come in the right window. It bounced twice or three times and hit the door to the cockpit and broke into a flash.

Does anyone know, if during that period, the C-47 cockpit windows were glass. safety-glass, plexi-glass or some other material?

Perhaps, as you used to see on cars. A small side-ventilator window was cranked open?

Cause, isn't glass an insulator?

So if what is believed to have been an electrical discharge? May have been an unrecognized phenomena, with similar characteristics. But could cross through clear glass?
not rated yet Mar 06, 2018
For additional read, there's an earlier paper from 2000 by Rañada (cited in this publication) that described this theoretical model.

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