Ball Lightening appears as a floating fireball which has little tendrils emanating from it that appear to jerk it around. It floats around erratically followed by smoke trails that spiral around it and typically last from one to 30 seconds. They shine as brightly as a 100 watt light-bulb, can be white, yellow , orange red or blue in color and are most generally the size of a grapefruit although reported sightings have ranged from golf ball to beach ball size. They most usually occur during thunderstorms, however there have been sightings that have occurred when no storm was present.
What causes Ball Lightning?
While theories on what exactly ball lightning is have ranged from plasma clouds to mini black hole to aliens there is no absolute scientific answer at this time. There is one very promising theory however that becomes more promising the more it is looked into.
The most promising current theory, proposed by John Abrahamson at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, suggests that ball lightning is the result of a chemical reaction of silicon particles burning in the air.
Silicon , which occurs naturally in soil, combines with oxygen and carbon and turns to pure silicon vapor when lightning strikes the ground. As the vapor cools the silicon condenses into a fine dust. The particles in this fine dust are attracted to each other by the electrical charge from the lightning and form a ball.
The glow and heat is a chemical reaction when the silicon reacts with oxygen in the air. Once the silicon has burned out, the ball lightning disappears.
The theory also suggests that other materials such as aluminum and iron metal can also cause the fireballs, and that any atmospheric discharge, not just lightning, may explain why ball lightning has been sighted near power poles, electrical fitters and even active faults.
This theory has been tested with some success. Researcher Antonio Pavao and Gerson Paiva of the Federal University of Pernambuco in Brazil believe they have verified the theory with silicon substrate and a high voltage arc. They applied 140 amps of electricity to silicon substrate which vaporized the substrate and sometimes produced golf ball sized fireballs.
Eli Jerby and Vladimer Dikhtyar of Tel Aviv University in Israel, successfully recreated ball lightning with a device they call a “microwave drill”. The “microwave drill” is made from a magnetron taken from a kitchen microwave oven and a powerful microwave beam capable of penetrating solid objects.
The tip of the drill aims the beam at a solid object ( silicon and alumina were among the substances tested) and creates a hot spot in the solid. When the beam is pulled away from the hot spot, the drag produces a fireball resembling ball lightning.
In July 2012, Ping Yuan from Northwest Normal University in Lanzhou,China was prart of a group studying regular lightning on the remote Qinghai Plateau of northwest China. During one evening they saw ball lightning appear after a lightning strike about 900 meters from their equipment and were able to record a spectrum and high speed video footage of the ball.
Yuan and his fellow researchers found that the spectrum contained several emission lines from silicon, iron and calcium, all elements expected to be abundant in soil. This is in line with and seems to somewhat confirm John Abrahamson’s theory, at least in part.
How does this apply to the paranormal?
If the portion of Mr Abrahamson’s theory about ball lightning that states it can be created by other atmospheric discharges other lightning proves correct then I would propose it could be a possible answer for some of the case of “mystery lights” that have been reported all over the country for centuries. I have not seen any instances of studies where this theory has been tested but I wonder if there are any power poles, electrical fitters or active faults near the occurrences of “mystery lights” such as the Brown Mountain or Marfa Lights for example. If there are and there are concentrations of silicon or aluminum in the area this could be a possible viable explanation of these occurrences in my opinion.