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Ball lighting

  1. Dec 6, 2006 #1
    I am a junior in high school, and am working on a project to figure out what ball lighting is. I currently believe the name “ball lightning” probably covers a group of different phenomena.

    I started by doing research on the net. I found that little research has been done on the subject. Most include microwave experiments, the simplest of which involves putting a lit match in a microwave sticking straight up. When I tried it, it created what looked like a roughly ball shaped lightning or fire, the fire on the match got very big, and then broke off from the match and began to float along inside the top of my microwave leaving black marks along the top.
    I debated as to what this could be, and if it could be the "real" BL in nature. For a while I thought that it couldn't be the BL that was created in nature. For one reason, there are no microwave ovens in nature!! But eventually I began to think that this phenomenon in my microwave was probably being made when microwaves bombard the carbon atoms in the flame, exciting them more, causing them to combust again. So BL was nothing but a very slow burning fire!!!
    Again I was stuck, I couldn't think of any fuel, natural or man-made that would burn slow enough to create BL without any artificial helpers, like a microwave.
    Then I saw a cool trick where a person cupped their hands, filled them with butane, and lit it, creating a ball of fire. That is when I realized, it’s not slow burning fuel, but the low availability of oxygen that causes it to burn slow. So I took a very small plastic bottle, about 2.5x5 centimeters, added butane (wish I could measure how much) and lit it. Lo and behold, it created a ball of fire inside the plastic bottle, without burning the plastic!!! I realized I would have to be able to view this ball of fire from the side, so I grabbed a glass bottle about the same size, added butane and lit it. I saw that only the top of the butane was burning. In nature this could only happen when the oxygen content is low, and it would cause it to take on a rough ball form. Since that experiment I believe BL is simply a rough ball of slow burning gas. Normally the next step would be to find the exact definition of BL and make sure that a ball of fire is the same thing as a ball of lightning, but unfortunately the best definition for ball lightning that I have found is "a ball of light floating in the air”, which isn't very descriptive. So the next best thing is to see what a large group of intelligent people think. So… what do you think?? :smile:
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 7, 2006 #2


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    Well BL is not a burning gas it is thought to be an electrified gas i.e. Plasma.
    I have seen something that could have been BL once when a lightning bolt hit a transformer outside of a friend apartment, a ball “rolled” down the pole and hovered about 10 feet off the ground for about 20 seconds then faded out with a snap sound.
    I hear it can also be generated by earthquakes, the thinking behind that is that the quartz crystals under extreme pressure are suddenly released giving off huge amounts of electricity which in turn react with gas in the atmosphere creating plasma sphere i.e. ball lightning. There are a lot of web sites about BL, some are good and some are just kooks but that is the same for almost all subjects.
    Hope this helps.
  4. Dec 7, 2006 #3


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    I too have had a sighting of something that may have been ball lightning, and it was durign a lightning storm, like sas3's observation. It was out in the country, and it involved a ground strike. This took place late at night, and I was looking out across a farmer's field, so distances are hard to judge. A bolt of lightning struck ground somewhere out in the field and, after the bolt had disappeared, two "points" of light remained, hovering just above the spot where the bolt had hit ground. These two glowing spheres, one directly above the other, seemed to hover at about 15 and 20 feet above the ground, and the higher one was slightly larger than the lower one.

    Each of these marked a point through which the original bolt had passed, so I suppose they could've been packets of plasmasized gas left behind by the stroke. However, they were also fairly close to the ground, so I suppose they could've been fragments of a rock that had been stricken by that bolt and blasted into the air. Each of these two possibilities corresponds to one of the two main theories as to exactly what ball lightning is.

    Here's a link to a fairly important paper on the subject.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2006
  5. Dec 7, 2006 #4


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    Dearly Missed

    Remember that as yet irreproducible phenomena like ball lightning make very poor empirical material.
    Thus, whichever theory seeks to explain it ought to be taken rather lightly, being largely conjectural.
  6. Dec 7, 2006 #5
    Thanks for the help, I will consider what you said. one question, why did your link bring me back to this page?
  7. Dec 11, 2006 #6


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    LOL!! Because I'm a total clutz! I found a web-page with a very ifnormative paper considered to bequite important to the quest for the truth about this phenominon, and I clicked no the link at the top of this page instead of that one.

    I'll try to find it again.
  8. Dec 11, 2006 #7
    interesting, becouse I have nvr found any real study that has been done in this area.
  9. Dec 12, 2006 #8


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    So let me try again...


    Has links to further articles. I can certainly relate to your frustration, there are very few serious researchers and a multitude of crackpots studying this topic. There's a lot to sort through. But this one seems legit.
  10. Dec 12, 2006 #9
    Thanks for getting that it is a very interesting paper, now that I think about it, I have read it before.

    It might be one type of BL, as I said early in my first post I belive thier are many "types" but I don't think it can cover a large portion of BL.

    It can't explain the BL in a microwave, and he neglected the fact that BL isn't allways made during a lightning storm.

    For the sake of what arildno said, I think I will stick to attempting to explain the type of BL in a microwave.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2006
  11. Dec 12, 2006 #10


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