What is Ball Lightning?

Ball lightning is significantly different than regular lightning (pictures above).
Ball lightning is significantly different than regular lightning (pictures above).

Ball lightning refers to a phenomenon involving atmospheric electricity. The phenomenon cannot be explained and has the potential to be dangerous. Ball lightning is a phrase that can be used in relation to a number of things such as thunderstorms and luminous round-shaped objects of varying sizes. However, the phenomenon is mostly associated with inexplicable events that take longer than thunderstorms, which dissipate after a few seconds. Some reports state that these luminous round objects end up exploding. The reports further state that the explosion may have severe consequences to life and leaves behind the smell of sulfur.

Formation of Ball Lightning

Despite plenty of accounts from all over the world, scientists did not believe in the realness of this phenomenon until the 1960s. In an attempt to explain the phenomenon, scientists have carried out lab experiments that replicate the visual effects of ball lightning. However, they have failed to establish the link between nature and ball lightning. Naturally, over the years, experts have tried to come up with a number of hypotheses to explain ball lightning. Unfortunately, the hypotheses set forth are unable to analyze properly the phenomenon due to the unpredictable nature and infrequency of the occurrence. Whatever data is available is based on public sightings, which is highly unreliable. For this reason, scientists have been unable to study it and come up with an explanation.

Characteristics of Ball Lightning

As stated earlier, the data is highly inconsistent since almost everyone describes it differently. However, some characteristics have been noted. Below are some of the most common observations of ball lightning.

  • It has a fuzzy edge and a generally spherical shape with a diameter averaging between 3.9 and 7.9 inches. Many accounts state that it appears to be rotating.
  • It is highly visible to the extent that it is even visible during the day. In addition, it can have a number of colors although the common ones are red, yellow, and orange.
  • Its lifespan is anywhere between one second and more than one minute. During the course of its life, it has an almost constant brightness.
  • When it appears, it can move in any direction although it mostly moves in a horizontal direction. In some cases, it can move erratically in all directions or stay stationary.
  • In some cases, some reports have mentioned the sensation of heat after it dissipates. In addition, some reports claim that there is a dissipation of gases like nitrogen oxides and sulfur.
  • Another reported behavior is that the phenomenon is highly attracted to metal objects such as metal fences and wires. Other people have reported the balls moving through buildings and appearing in metal aircrafts. Eventually, they dissipate harmlessly.
  • Reports also state that its disappearance is unpredictable, that is, an explosion may or may not occur. In addition, it usually appears at the same time as lightning hitting the ground.

Possible Theories

Theories are many and varied. One theory suggests the burning of vaporized silicon after oxidation causes ball lightning. Another theory states that the phenomenon is caused by electrical charges while another one has to do with microwaves. The numerous theories are still incapable of offering an explanation.


More in World Facts