Episode #10 of the course “Rare and Unusual Weather Phenomena”
Reported around the world and throughout history, ball lightning is one of the least explained and most misunderstood of all natural phenomena. It is reported sometimes to appear like a ball of fire—red and yellow—and sometimes to appear like a ball of bright light. They can range anywhere from a few inches up to several feet. It is reported that ball lightning sometimes moves horizontally through the air and other times vertically, but sometimes its movements are said to be erratic, and other times it is reported to remain still.
Some claim that these balls of lightning “prefer” metal railings or power lines. Other spectators tell how the balls will avoid buildings and objects. Most observers of a ball of lightning report that it will explode after a period of time—as little as one second or as long as one minute—in a brilliant flash. Some observers report that the explosions are harmless and silent, and some observers report that they cause a loud sound and cause damage to people and buildings. They have even caused the deaths of animals and people.
Ball lightning was not studied until the 1960s, as many scientists did not believe stories about it. First measured in 2012, an accidental recording revealed more about the way that the ball of plasma-like energy is created as well as the light waves that it emits. The research showed that ball lightning could be created after a cloud to ground lightning strike and that elements from the ground such as iron and calcium were contained in the final explosion. The theory that the explosions contained ground elements had been proposed nearly 40 years before, but this first recording allows people to understand more than ever before.
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