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article imageHave researchers solved the mystery of 'ball lightning'?

By Kathleen Blanchard     Aug 20, 2013 in Science
Researchers may have created a rare phenomenon in the lab known as ball lightning. Scientists still don’t understand exactly what that is, but it has seen in nature and floating around in aircraft.
The findings were published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry. The impetus in reproducing the glowing plasma discharge is that scientists can learn to understand how it happens.
Rhys Phillips, a lightning research engineer and science broadcaster, said: "To me at least, lightning is still not the word for what we're talking about here. We understand lightning to be a very fast discharge from one point to another - for example, a cloud to the Earth - (through a complex process admittedly) and the observations in [the current] paper don't describe that,” a BBC report states.
Eye-witness reports of ball lightning are said to vary widely in terms of how long they last and their size and movement.
Dr Mike Lindsay, who led the study, said he wouldn't call the phenomenon lightning. He says the glowing balls are not the same.
“I don't think what we've created is lightning, although the initial stages of the electrical discharge that produce this 'plasmoid' have many similarities to lightning. They're just electric arcs - in this case, electric arcs to the surface of this solution of electrolytes. And then what happens is this plasmoid emerges from it.”
In their experiments, the researchers tried to get the lightning balls to last as long as possible by creating a ‘discharge’ from an electrolyte solution. They were able to make the lightning balls last longer by adjusting the acidity of the solution, which in turn gave them more time to study the plasmoids.
The researchers use video cameras and other imaging equipment to scan the density and infra-red profile of the balls as their density changed.
The result suggests lightning balls consist of water vapor and carbon dioxide, in addition to some other unknowns.
Lindsay said the researchers aren’t sure that what they've created is exactly ball lightning, but “…It has many similarities, and it's clearly not similar to better known phenomena such as St Elmo's fire or bead lightning, which are well known and understood in nature.”
More about ball lightning, Study, ball lightning created in lab, Lightning
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