A wild Ball Lightning appears!
January 24, 2014 9:39 AM   Subscribe

A natural occurence of the rare and mysterious weather phenomenon known as ball lightning has been captured on video by researchers in China.

Ball lightning is seen most often in conjunction with regular lightning strikes, appearing as glowing spheres of varying colors, ranging from pea-sized to up to three feet in diameter. The spheres are often reported to travel through the air, at times passing through solid walls. They are said to smell of ozone and sulfur. In some accounts they vanish silently, in others they explode.

Spectral analysis of the video supports the theory that ball lightning is burning silicon vapor ignited by regular lightning striking the ground.

(Previously on MetaFilter)
posted by prize bull octorok (33 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

How do they pass through walls?
posted by gucci mane at 9:46 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

Is there a link to the video?
posted by jjwiseman at 9:48 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]

I like ball lightning a lot because when I was a kid then it wasn't considered real - everyone who had ever witnessed the phenomenon was considered either a liar or mistaken (like ghosts or UFOs).

I've enjoyed watching its journey from the fringes of science into the mainstream. And I'm very pleased that now it's been captured on video...
posted by Monkeymoo at 9:55 AM on January 24 [9 favorites]

In other news, Chinese scientists apologize for disturbing the remains of ancient Incan mummy. Intrepid boy reporter is on the case.
posted by yoink at 10:05 AM on January 24 [8 favorites]

Wow that video is pretty lame. I guess the spectral-analysis-style video capture equipment is the only type of proof that's acceptable?
posted by stinkfoot at 10:07 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

I like ball lightning a lot because when I was a kid then it wasn't considered real

Along with Earthquake Lights, fire tornadoes and Le Rayon-Vert, aka the the green flash... all of which have since been photographed.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:13 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]

(The video is only slightly more disappointing than most photos of Bigfoot...)
posted by Sing Or Swim at 10:25 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]

I can't imagine why, it was only recorded from 3,000 ft away and the ball only lasted 1.64 seconds...
posted by Big_B at 10:35 AM on January 24

I can't imagine why, it was only recorded from 3,000 ft away and the ball only lasted 1.64 seconds...

But they'e scientists. Surely they know how to ask the computer to 'enhance'?
posted by yoink at 10:44 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

I love that there's a link to "Our fireball experiment" which evidently involves making fireballs in the microwave.
posted by happyroach at 10:47 AM on January 24

"Researchers determined the Ball Lightning to be 6/1, have a curious "Trampling" property, and found that it disappeared at the beginning of the next end step."
posted by meadowlark lime at 10:50 AM on January 24 [20 favorites]

There may be perfectly good reasons why it's a crappy video, but it's still a crappy video. The internet is chock full of clear, high-resolution photos of husky dogs sleeping in funny positions taken by laymen. If you're going to discover something, for heaven's sake, get a decent picture of it.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 10:57 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

I would imagine if they'd somehow set out to record ball lightning, the picture might be better. According to the article, this was captured by accident. For all we know, it was the security camera for the lab parking lot (not really, but they're lucky to have captured it at all.)
posted by davejay at 11:07 AM on January 24

I picture the scientists abusing their high-speed camera privileges to take pictures of themselves jumping up and down FOR SCIENCE when this happened behind the jumping scientists in the background, through a window
posted by davejay at 11:08 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

gucci mane: "How do they pass through walls?"

There is a well known story in my family about how ball lightening burned down my great-grandparents house. The story features ball lightening traveling through the exterior wall. Which for a wood frame house constructed 150 years ago isn't all that unbelievable. The walls were solid as far as people went but wind pretty well blew right through so a plasma ball could probably blow right though too.
posted by Mitheral at 11:10 AM on January 24

They pass through walls because the Tall Greys are carrying them. Duh.
posted by Big_B at 11:22 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

Considering that it's apparently caused by some sort of interaction of high current electricity with solid objects, I would imagine that it might be observed to "pass through" a wall when in fact it was being spawned from that wall.
posted by fifthrider at 12:13 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

I dug around and found a photo of the ball lightning that's more dramatic.
posted by yaymukund at 12:38 PM on January 24 [5 favorites]

We've all heard how ball lightning is the go-to explanation from everything from UFO sightings to ghost sightings, and how ball lightning is the scientific and reasonable explanation for these things. Yet ball lightning itself seems to be just as elusive as those things, and seems to come from purely anecdotal evidence.

Yes there's the video, which sucks btw, but that's geeks in a lab creating something with equipment and tech. Out in nature, ball lighting seems to be impossible to nail down. Kinda like UFOs and ghosts! It seems they are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole; making something with the expectation of what the outcome will be. That's not science.

I don't think ball lightning exists. Or at least, to call it "lightning" in meteorological sense is a misnomer at the very least. How about "Unidentified Flying Light Orbs" (UFLOs)? In a hundred years people will look back at us and laugh the way we laugh at belief in the ethereal plane.
posted by zardoz at 12:57 PM on January 24

So, what are all these?
posted by stinkfoot at 1:21 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

fifthrider, that's a good thought. I was having a hard time reconciling the "it's made from the dirt struck by lightning" explanation with the stories about ball lighting appearing, for example, inside an airplane. But if it could be generated *by* a lightning strike on the fuselage of the plane, maybe, maybe....
posted by edheil at 1:42 PM on January 24

When I was little, having a bath with my sister - we were aged 6 & 8 and in the bathroom on our own - a glowing fiery ball came through the open window with a bang, fizzed about a bit and then exploded. The resultant screaming brought my parents upstairs. There were earthy, iron-smelling fragments all over the bathroom floor.

The ball can't have hit the bath water or we'd be dead, I guess. But I don't know how it didn't hit the water. It was slightly bigger than a tennis ball. It was bright enough to dazzle and leave a complementary shadow, whatever it's called, an after-image. I can't remember what the weather was doing, because I don't think we'd have had a bath in the middle of a thunder storm (tropical storms being as scary as they are) but sometimes the weather rumbles away impressively and you can see looming towers of cumulonimbus lit from within by lightning, without it actually raining. Possibly a storm had started after we'd got in the bath, in which case we must have been preparing to get out of it sharpish. It was night time.

I think I can even remember my Dad naming the phenomenon, "Ball lightning." It was quite disappointing in later life to find out it's not supposed to exist. But in that case I wonder how come my Dad had that explanation at his finger tips?

Anyhow it seemed normalish at the time though I've never seen anything like it since. I say normalish because the tropics are kind of overstated and emphatic and singular all the time in a way that is both beautiful and wearing.

So yeah, ball lightning. It's nice to find out it may be real after all.
posted by glasseyes at 2:39 PM on January 24 [5 favorites]

Well well well. Looking at the first link, it seems tons of people have seen so-called ball lightning. I had no idea - last time I looked it up on the internet it was supposed to be as dodgy as UFOs and Greys and probes and stuff.
posted by glasseyes at 2:51 PM on January 24

It's almost as if many of you skeptics think we already understand the universe.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:10 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

Count me in the 'ball lightning definitely exists' category. I've heard accounts of ball lightning from people who just aren't that excitable or imaginative.

I would imagine with the advent of the ubiquitous iPhone camera we will now be seeing more photographic evidence of BL.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:10 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

edheil: "fifthrider, that's a good thought. I was having a hard time reconciling the "it's made from the dirt struck by lightning" explanation with the stories about ball lighting appearing, for example, inside an airplane. But if it could be generated *by* a lightning strike on the fuselage of the plane, maybe, maybe...."

It's possible these are two separate phenomenon with similar effects.
posted by Mitheral at 6:34 PM on January 24

When I was 12 and living near Odense in Denmark I was left at home one evening while my parents went out for dinner. There was a tremendous thunderstorm with strong winds and downpours, and lightning in the distance over the wheat fields.

At one point a series of balls of lightning formed on the power lines and bounced slowly down them, not really touching the wires and not really separating that far from them either.

I tried to explain to my parents when they came home and they didn't really believe it, despite being scientists. But the vividness of those few minutes has haunted me my entire life.
posted by Rumple at 6:56 PM on January 24 [4 favorites]

We've also got a family story about ball lightning bouncing around inside a room. I remember hearing about this long before learning it was considered mythical.
posted by odinsdream at 7:06 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]

Put me down as another who along with my brother has witnessed phenomena that we thought was ball lightning. A lightning strike (although not as loud as a normal strike) hit our house during a pre-storm squall and a white ball of light exited the screen of our black and white TV and moved at walking speed across the room and through an exterior brick wall at a point closest to our exterior galvanised iron water tank.

It was weird. Our TV was not damaged. No physical trace of the lightning was left behind.
posted by vicx at 1:31 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]

My cousin saw ball lightning in Florida years ago. Stepped out his front door to go to work just as an afternoon thunderstorm was ending, and watched a fiercely bright ball bounce along the street for a minute or so before disappearing.
posted by sarcasticah at 8:10 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]

I honestly saw something resembling Ball Lightning when I was a child. (In whatever year Pokemon Yellow was new, maybe it was Pikachu.)

Only a couple years ago did I find out the name of the phenomenon; it's awesome to know my eyes (probably) didn't deceive me.
posted by mafted jacksie at 6:19 PM on January 25

posted by homunculus at 7:32 PM on January 25

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