Ball Lightning Mystery Solved? Electrical Phenomenon Created in Lab
Brazilian scientists may have solved a shocking scientific mystery by creating ball lightning in the lab.
Physicist Antonio Pavão and doctoral student Gerson Paiva of the Federal University of Pernambuco have created orbs of electricity about the size of golf balls that mimic natural ball lightning.
The fluffy-looking spheres spin, throw off sparks, and vibrate.
They also move erratically about the lab, rolling around on the floor, bouncing off objects, and burning whatever they touch (see enlarged photo for stills from laboratory video).
People have reported seeing ball lightning in nature for hundreds of years, but there is no scientific consensus as to what causes the phenomenon.
(Read "Ball Lightning: A Shocking Scientific Mystery" [May 31, 2006].)
"Since Benjamin Franklin, or even before him, different explanations have been proposed," Pavão said.
"But now we are producing balls [of lightning] as a result of silicon combustion. I believe that with our results, ball lightning is losing its status [as a] mystery."
Recent Clues to Centuries-Old Mystery
According to various surveys, between 1 in 30 and 1 in 150 people report having seen natural ball lightning.
Thousands of accounts describe brief encounters with orbs the size of tennis balls, or even beach balls, that seem alive with electricity.
Ball lightning often appears during thunderstorms and typically glows, spins, hisses, bounces, and floats.
The balls have been reported to melt glass windows, burn objects, and even kill people—notably the 18th-century electricity researcher Georg Richmann.
Many theories have been proposed to explain the phenomenon.