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What is ball lightning?

By Dayyal Dg.Twitter Profile | Updated: Monday, 27 February 2023 14:31 UTC
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Electric ball with light effect.
Electric ball with light effect. Freepik / @pikisuperstar

Ball lightning is a phenomenon that has fascinated scientists and the general public alike for centuries. It refers to a rare and poorly understood atmospheric electrical phenomenon that typically appears as a glowing ball of light, ranging from the size of a grapefruit to that of a basketball, that moves slowly through the air before disappearing. While ball lightning has been observed and reported by people for centuries, it remains a mystery to science.

The first recorded observation of ball lightning was made by an English naturalist named John Whitehurst in 1753. Since then, there have been countless reports of ball lightning from all over the world, but these reports have been largely anecdotal and have not provided a definitive explanation for the phenomenon. However, with advancements in technology and research methods, scientists are starting to unravel the mystery of ball lightning.

One of the most remarkable aspects of ball lightning is its unpredictability. Ball lightning has been observed in a variety of settings, including during thunderstorms, near electrical equipment, and even inside homes. It is often reported as being spherical or oblong in shape, and it typically lasts for a few seconds to a few minutes before disappearing. Some witnesses have reported that the ball lightning seemed to move deliberately, while others have reported that it seemed to be attracted to metal objects.

Despite the many observations of ball lightning, scientists have struggled to explain the phenomenon. One theory suggests that ball lightning is the result of a plasma discharge, which occurs when a large electrical charge builds up in the atmosphere. This discharge can create a ball of plasma that emits light, and this ball can travel through the air before dissipating. Another theory suggests that ball lightning is the result of a chemical reaction, possibly involving the ionization of oxygen or nitrogen in the atmosphere.

Recent research has shed some new light on ball lightning. In 2014, a team of researchers from the Australian National University created ball lightning in the laboratory for the first time using a technique called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy. The researchers were able to generate small, glowing balls of plasma that lasted for several milliseconds, providing new insights into the properties and behavior of ball lightning.

Despite these recent developments, ball lightning remains one of the most intriguing and mysterious phenomena in science. While we now have a better understanding of the conditions that can give rise to ball lightning, there is still much we do not know. Further research is needed to understand the fundamental nature of this phenomenon, and to determine whether ball lightning could have practical applications in fields such as energy production or materials science.


In conclusion, ball lightning remains a fascinating and enigmatic phenomenon that has captivated people for centuries. While we have made some progress in understanding its properties and behavior, there is still much we do not know about this mysterious phenomenon. As scientists continue to study ball lightning, we may someday unlock its secrets and gain new insights into the workings of our universe.

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