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Ball lightning atmosphere interaction

  1. Sep 11, 2013 #1
    There are numerous threads here about ball lightning but Im not exactly sure have any of those addressed this issue?

    Now a ball lightning even though haven't been duplicated in the lab is most likely a some sort of sphere or form of a plasma or ionized gas that has to do with charges and thunderclouds.Now my question is not so much about the lightning itself as for the fact how does a plasma ball like that manage to survive in atmospheric conditions , and most importantly I'm speaking about the temperature difference here , what shields the plasma from rapidly cooling down hence the air around it is very cold compared to the plasma?

    I have read that a russian , soviet scientist Pyotr Kapitsa did some work on this subject but I would appreciate some advanced commentary on this one.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 11, 2013 #2


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    According to the Wikipedia page on plasma, terrestrial plasmas may have temperatures that vary over a large range, from “~0K in crystalline non-neutral plasmas to ~108K in magnetic fusion reactions.” Plasma Globes, Neon lights, and St, Elmo’s fire are examples of “cold” plasmas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plasma_(physics [Broken])

    Ball Lightning (BL) is almost never reported to move upwards. Uman cites many reports of movement, usually laterally. If Ball Lightning is indeed a plasma, it probably is not hot. See: Uman, Martin A. (1984). Lightning. Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-25237-X. Note: if you get this Dover book, be sure to order the first edition 1984), which contains a detailed technical discussion of BL. The second edition only has a very limited chapter on Ball Lightning.

    (Typical Ball Lightning ) “tend(s) to move, most often in a horizontal direction at a few metres per second, but may also move vertically, remain stationary or wander erratically. It is rare that observers report the sensation of heat, although in some cases the disappearance of the ball is accompanied by the liberation of heat.”

    Your mention of Kapitsa probably refers to this:
    Kapitsa, Peter L. (1955). "The Nature of Ball Lightning". In Donald J. Ritchie. Ball Lightning: A Collection of Soviet Research in English Translation (1961 ed.). Consultants Bureau, New York. pp. 11–16. I would avoid such an old document.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  4. Sep 11, 2013 #3
    OK so we say it' s not that hot , but still it has to be at a higher temperature ?
    And if so then how does it maintain that temperature ? Normally things get to equilibrium in atmospheric conditions.

    Thanks for the references by the way.
  5. Sep 13, 2013 #4
    somehow none of my later threads gets any attention :D

    I do believe someone has something wise to say about this topic:)
  6. Sep 13, 2013 #5


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    Staff: Mentor

    *clears throat*

    We ain't got no idea how that ballzy lightning works!
  7. Sep 13, 2013 #6


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    There is no doubt that ball lightning exists, but no satisfactory scientific theory has been found to explain it. There is no experimental evidence to examine because it has never been successfully created in laboratory conditions. There exists much anecdotal evidence from the reports of hundreds of eyewitnesses to analyze. For example:
    http://amasci.com/weird/unusual/bl.html and

    Here is a survey of 130 eye witness reports which have been collected since 1986:

    For those interested in Ball Lightning there are many sources to search and learn from. A search on arXiv using the terms “ball lightning” brings 38 results. See: http://arxiv.org/find/all/1/all:+AND+ball+lightning/0/1/0/all/0/1

    Scientific American, “Ask the Experts”, dated July 18, 1997 has this: “Peter H. Handel in the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Missouri at St. Louis provided a detailed overview and advances his favored model of ball lightning.” See: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=periodically-i-hear-stori [Broken]

    Finally, there is this: “Ball Lightning Debunk, New Proposal” by Bobbywhy. See: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=293120&highlight=ball+lightning
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
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