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What natural phenomenon explains this glowing object.

  1. Aug 11, 2012 #1
    Many years ago I was sat playing cards with friends when I saw this strange light outside hovering just above a door handle so I went to have a look.

    It was about the size of a golf ball and had some resemblance to a flame but with very different properties.

    It was silent.

    It was in constant motion, it fluttered in all directions.

    It was soft white colour and it didn't illuminate its surroundings.

    Small flares would burst from it just like a flame but instead of always pointing upwards these flares took place in all directions without being drawn upwards due to heat rising.
    There were no visible fumes or smoke coming from it.

    It just rose upwards ever so gently , after around 15 minutes it was still easily visible at something like 50 - 60 feet in the air. It might have lasted a lot longer but I was being nagged to go back inside and play cards.

    It looked so fragile I was expecting it to vanish the moment I saw it but it showed no signs of diminishing in size over time.

    Any idea what it was?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 11, 2012 #2


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    From your description, you saw Ball Lightning (BL). Here are the opening three sentences from Wikipedia:

    “Ball lightning is an unexplained atmospheric electrical phenomenon. The term refers to reports of luminous, usually spherical objects which vary from pea-sized to several meters in diameter. It is usually associated with thunderstorms, but lasts considerably longer than the split-second flash of a lightning bolt.”

    There is a plethora of websites on the subject and there have been international conferences filled with anecdotal evidence to discuss the subject. There are several proposed theories, but so far, there is no scientific consensus on the mechanism of ball lightning. I have studied this subject extensively and recommend these textbooks for anyone interested:

    Barry, James Dale (1980). Ball Lightning and Bead Lightning. New York: Plenum Press. ISBN 0-306-40272-6.

    Uman, Martin A. (1984). Lightning. Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-25237-X.

    Seems to me like a great challenge for some interested physicist, engineer, or scientist to recreate BL in the laboratory and prove a theory correct. Just think, in future maybe it would be named after you...
  4. Aug 12, 2012 #3
    I've read about ball lightening but never seen an account that resemble what I saw, as a matter of fact the descriptions are so varied its difficult to believe that its the same phenomena being discussed. Also the fact that it lasted a good 15 minutes or more seems to put it outside the realms of ball lightening.

    I stood watching this thing from about a foot away , the weather was nice and not a storm in sight. You could easily walk straight past it without noticing it. I'm not crazy either it was seen by about five other people :D

    All I can think of is its some kind of charged gas, but then how do all the molecules of a particular gas accumulate in one place and why wasn't it torn apart by the gentle gusts of wind.
  5. Aug 12, 2012 #4


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    QuantumHop, may I suggest that you reconsider? I am fairly certain you have described exactly Ball Lightning. There are compilations of anecdotal reports from everywhere on our planet describing Ball Lightning, including weather conditions, size, color, motion, sound(s), odors, motion (sometimes up, down, or sideways), duration, disappearance, etc. available on the internet and in Barry’s textbook (referenced above). All the details that you have described in your OP do correspond with some of those reports. Do you have some alternate suggestion(s) to explain what you saw?

    Ball lightning is common and has been seen here in my region of North-central Brasil by many people. I have personally interviewed at least fifteen persons who have seen it. For example: A professional biologist described seeing, in the dry season in clear weather, a circular array of perhaps 25 soccer-ball sized spheres with the whole array hovering above a fruit orchard. The array gradually rotated while each sphere remained equidistant from the next. They were as bright as and the color of car headlights. The display lasted over a few hours. Several workers were also present and repeated essentially the same description the biologist gave. There is a large waterfall approximately 100m from this location.

    From “Scientific American”, July, 1997:
    “Ball lightning may be more exotic than microwave oven sparks, but most scientists are convinced that it is no less real. Martin A. Uman, chair of the department of electrical computer engineering at the University of Florida at Gainesville explains:
    "Ball lightning is a well-documented phenomenon in the sense that it has been seen and consistently described by people in all walks of life since the time of the ancient Greeks. There is no accepted theory for what causes it. It does not necessarily consist of plasma; for example, ball lightning could be the result of a chemiluminescent process. The literature abounds with speculations on the physics of the ball lightning."
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=periodically-i-hear-stori [Broken]

    For extensive bibliographies, here are two:

    Ball lightning bibliography
    Albino Carbognani (1999)
    http://www.fis.unipr.it/~albino/documenti/Bibliografia_BL.html [Broken]

    Barry Greenwood's
    Ball Lightning Articles Bibliography

    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  6. Aug 14, 2012 #5
    I guess it could be some type of ball lightening but the majority of descriptions don't describe what I saw and the length of time it existed seems to be much longer then most descriptions. Almost all the descriptions describe it as a round ball but this wasn't the case, it had no defined shape it just morphed and stretched in all directions.

    It also looked stone cold as in it had no signs of heat shimmer that you get with a fire, I could see its reflection in the windows it was hovering in front of but it didn't give off enough light to illuminate the brickwork when it was only about 12 inches away.

    Also the descriptions I've seen seem to describe something that's fast moving and energetic, what I saw very tranquil. When I say it moved like some kind of flame imagine it being slowed down and less energetic, somewhere between a liquid and a flame.

    I'll see it on youtube one day :)
  7. Aug 14, 2012 #6


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    Im suprised you didnt photo or video it since it was there for so long ??

  8. Aug 14, 2012 #7
    lol at the time I saw this a mobile phone was bigger than a house brick with a carrying handle and an antenna sticking out the back :biggrin:
  9. Aug 14, 2012 #8


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    There is another natural phenomenon that could possibly it your description: Saint Elmo's Fire.
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2012
  10. Aug 14, 2012 #9


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    Ball lightning is generally observed to descend, and not to ascend.
    Ball lightning is generally observed only for a few seconds to a minute or two at most.
    Saint Elmo's Fire is a negative discharge from ground to atmosphere, and is generally affixed to a structure, even if only blades of grass or even a cattle horn(!)

    I've read both Barry and Uman, and would have to first ask about the weather conditions during the sighting. If it were during or just after a thunderstorm, I would guess ball lightning-related. Otherwise, it doesn't correlate to anything we know much - or anything - about.

    I have the strong hunch physicists need to have a much more complete understanding of ball lightning. Although the phenomenon itself doesn't seem too important, I think the underlying physics might help to clear up a few other mysteries.

    Respectfully submitted,
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2012
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