Goodness gracious, great balls of lightning!

"But", you say, "That's not lightning. It's plasma! And here you call yourself smart."

Advertisement

Ok, Mr. or Mrs. Smartypants, what do you think lightning is? While plasma is a gas, the visible track left by lightning is, in fact, plasma. So, poo on you! Nyah!

And, what does plasma have to do with todays post? In a word: nothing. Or, not much, at least.

Today, I'm talking about Ball Lightning. What is ball lightning? Who knows. Seriously. Your guess is as good as modern sciences. It might exist, or it might not.

Advertisement

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Allow me to fill you in on the phenomena of ball lightning.

Ball Lightning has been described as being anywhere from the size of a golf ball, to as large a ball several feet across. People usually see it during an active thunderstorm. It lasts longer than normal lightning, and doesn't follow the traditional cloud to ground, or cloud to cloud strikes. While normal lightning is just a flash of light that lingers for less than a second, ball lightning can las for up to 10 seconds.

It glows about as bright as a 100 watt light bulb. There are reports of it passing through glass and screens to enter houses. Wind does not affect it, and it will either fade away or explode into a shower of sparks. People have reportedly been killed by ball lightning, like Georg Richmann in 1753. (Richmann is thought to have been killed by ball lightning, but he was also conducting experiments with lightning rods in St. Petersburg at the time)

Some cases of ball lightning have been recorded by multiple witnesses in different locations. Their reports have the ball move at the same speed and in the same direction even though it was observed from different angles.

Everyone who studies ball lightning seems to have their own theory about what it is, exactly, and what causes it. Lab experiments have seemingly duplicated the rare phenomena, but since ball lightning is so rare, it hasn't been studied in the wild, so no one knows exactly how similar it is.

Two researchers at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, think they have the answer for what it is, though.

Advertisement

Joseph Peer and Alexander Kendl pondered the question of ball lightning, and began to wonder if it was all in peoples heads. That is, was ball lightning the result of a hallucination?

They expanded on previous research where scientists had induced electrical currents in human brains by using a device called a Transcranial Magnetic Stimulator. The TMS uses a magnetic field to produce the electrical current.

What Peer and Kendl did was, they focused the magnetic waves at the visual cortes of their subjects brains.

Advertisement

All their subjects reported seeing a luminous disk. And when they shifted the focus around the visual cortex, the disk moved.

It's been known for a long time that lightning creates magnetic fields. Peer and Kendl put two and two together and hypothesized that ball lightning is just magnetically induced hallucinations.

Are they right? There are a lot of people who disagree. And, some of them are very well respected scientists. One of their prominent arguments is, the luminous disk Peer and Kendl created with their magnetic hallucinations were described as grey or white. Witnesses describe ball lightning as being vividly colored. They say it also has a distinct odor, and makes a sound as it moves.

Advertisement

So, after all is said and done, we're no closer to finding a definitive answer to what exactly, ball lightning is.

Personally, I don't care what it is. All I know is, you can make it in your microwave at home. (seriously....it's not hard to do) Anyone want to know how? I could probably be persuaded to share the secret if someone were to use the magic word......