Bizarre Ball Lightning Remains a Mystery

Ball lightning in action? Photo:

Ball lightning in action? Photo:

Nature and its ways keep fascinating us. Especially when there is no easy explanation for what it offers. Like with the oddity of ball lightning.

French illustration of ball lightning 1889. Photo: National Geographics

French illustration of ball lightning 1889. Photo: National Geographics

Ball lightning may come in sizes of tennis balls, oranges, and beach balls and are set alive with electricity. Stories of lightning balls have been told with enthusiasm for centuries. No wonder.

Imagining during a thunderstorm a highly unusual ball of electricity passing through the air in front of you with an extreme intensity and speed, only to disappear within a split-second. Most people would probably be starstruck. And perhaps start to wonder if the glowing bouncing fireball before their eyes actually was real, if they have simply gone mad, or if it was a reflection of divinity.

A celestial expression was exactly how the last emperor of Russia, Tsar Nicholas II, believed it to be when once seeing a ball lightning in the middle of a church service:

Suddenly it became quite dark, a blast of wind from the open door blew out the flame of the candles which were lit in front of the iconostasis, there was a long clap of thunder, louder than before, and I suddenly saw a fiery ball flying from the window straight towards the head of the Emperor. The ball (it was of lightning) whirled around the floor, then passed the chandelier and flew out through the door into the park. My heart froze.

Fictional description of ball lightning, here in the Adventures of Tintin.

Fictional description of ball lightning, here in the Adventures of Tintin.

Also in the fictional world authors have depicted ball lightning as something mystic belonging to superstition. In one of the stories of  The Adventures of Tintin by Belgian Hergé, a lightning ball is said to be the cause of the disappearance of the Inca mummy Rascar Capac, which Tintin is investigating on an expeditions to the Latin-American Andes.

Apart from the tales, science tell us that however rare, balls of lightning do exist. Why it occurs still remains a mystery. Theories of different kind of materials which trigger ball lightning involve microwave radiation, nuclear energy, dark matter and black holes. Scientists have also relied on their own risky experiments on reproducing the highly unpredictable energy balls. Lately, experiments with silicon balls of fire have been tested and proven to be a fiery material of the electricity balls.

Much of the research on the phenomenon is based on eye-witness reports, which obviously and unfortunately are scarce due to the strikes infrequent nature. So if you happen to be (un)lucky to be struck by ball lightning, be kind and tell the world about it. No matter how weird your story may sound.

More incredible lightning photos here.


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