Ball lightning is an unexplained phenomenon described as luminescent, spherical objects that vary from pea-sized to several meters in diameter. Lightning is an electric current. Thank you for signing up to Live Science. Perhaps the strongest evidence for ball lightning's existence is that scientists may have recreated it or something very much like it in a lab. An associated phenomenon is ball lightning. Ball lightning has been reported to cause damage by burning or melting but is usually harmless. Premium Membership is now 50% off! You will receive a verification email shortly. Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article. Stay up to date on the coronavirus outbreak by signing up to our newsletter today. The result gave credence to the theory that ball lightning is the result of a lightning strike on silica-rich soil. Some nineteenth century reports describe balls that eventually explode and leave behind an odor of sulfur. Ball lightning, also called globe lightning, a rare aerial phenomenon in the form of a luminous sphere that is generally several centimetres in diameter. Receive mail from us on behalf of our trusted partners or sponsors? Out in the real world, these rings of fire remain a mystery best suited for dark and stormy nights. As of this writing ball lightning is not well understood or even accepted as a real phenomenon by many scientists. Researchers from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, have proposed that the bright glow of lightning balls is created when microwaves become trapped inside a … Its causes and its relation to common lightning are not known, but among the suggested explanations are: air or gas behaving abnormally, high-density plasma phenomena, an air vortex containing luminous gases, and microwave radiation trapped within a plasma bubble. It normally lasts only a few seconds, usually moving about and then vanishing suddenly, either silently or explosively. Descriptions of ball lightning appear in a variety of accounts over the centuries, and have received much attention from scie… Future US, Inc. 11 West 42nd Street, 15th Floor, Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article (requires login). One of the earliest documented reports of ball lightning came from the events of a stormy Sunday in 1638. Contemporary accounts tend to be less dramatic than the parish church tale: In general, the worst damage is some singed clothing or furniture. Please refresh the page and try again. Receive news and offers from our other brands? © By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. But despite accounts stretching back hundreds of years, scientists still aren't sure what causes this spooky phenomenon or even if it truly exists. The current prevailing physical theory for ball lightning is the atmospheric maser theory. 23 April 2010. Or seen sparks when you take off your jumper? New York, It glows hot as because of a chemical reaction between the silicon and oxygen in the air. Live Science is part of Future US Inc, an international media group and leading digital publisher. How ball lightning has eluded our understanding for centuries. By Ball lightning appears as glowing orbs that seem to occur during thunderstorms, which are then followed by a lightning strike. Although lightning balls are…. Updates? The result was blue- or orange-white spheres the size of ping-pong balls that hovered around for as long as eight seconds. But this theory doesn't explain all reported ball lightning sightings, such as those on airplanes. But despite accounts stretching back hundreds of years, scientists still aren't sure what causes this spooky phenomenon or even if it truly exists. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. What causes lightning? Other researchers have floated theories for ball lightning ranging from miniature black holes left over from the Big Bang to visual hallucinations caused by epileptic seizures, but the silica theory remains the only lab-tested hypothesis. There are authenticated reports of glowing, floating, stable balls of light several tens of centimetres in diameter occurring at times of intense electrical activity in the atmosphere. Stephanie Pappas - Live Science Contributor In these cases, the luminosity also persists and the channel may have regions of enhanced luminosity that resemble a string of beads. There was a problem. How does lightning form? Corrections? Please deactivate your ad blocker in order to see our subscription offer. Ball lightning has been reported to cause damage by burning or melting but is usually harmless. Though usually associated with thunderstorms, the phenomenon is said to last considerably longer than the split-second flash of a lightning bolt. (Op-Ed), Catch the full moon (and a penumbral eclipse) on Monday, Whodunit solved when 'sword' is found embedded in thresher shark, Wide-eyed prehistoric shark hid its sharpest teeth in nightmare jaws, Megalodon nurseries reveal world’s largest shark had a soft side. Ball lightning is one of the best-known natural phenomena that few have seen. On contact with an object, these balls release large amounts of energy. In a study published in the journal Physical Review Letters in 2007, researchers at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Brazil reported using electricity to vaporize tiny wafers of silicon. Omissions? The vaporized silica, the theory goes, condenses into nanoparticles and is bound together by electrical charges. Ball lightning - Wikipedia Yes there have been numerous accounts of people being not only injured but also killed. https://www.britannica.com/science/ball-lightning. Witnesses describe ball lightning as fist-size floating spheres of fire that spin, hover in mid-air and sometimes explode. These mysterious orbs have been seen floating around outdoors, in buildings and even on ships and airplanes. A parish church in Devonshire, England went up in flames and some of the people inside were killed. Encyclopaedia Britannica's editors oversee subject areas in which they have extensive knowledge, whether from years of experience gained by working on that content or via study for an advanced degree.... Fantasy, phenomenon, or weapon? When lightning is made the same thing happens, but on a much bigger scale. Banned in 160 Nations, Why is Ractopamine in U.S. Pork? What is Ball Lightning? Sometimes bead lightning is mistaken for ball lightning. Have you ever got a static electricity shock? NY 10036. Visit our corporate site. It usually occurs near the ground during thunderstorms, in close association with cloud-to-ground lightning. Black Friday Sale! what causes ball lightning? It may be red, orange, yellow, white, or blue in colour and is often accompanied by a hissing sound and distinct odour. Its causes and its relation to common lightning are not known, but among the suggested explanations are: air or gas behaving abnormally, high-density plasma phenomena, an air vortex containing luminous gases, and microwave radiation trapped within a plasma bubble.