In 1960 a study was made public at the Second Annual Meeting of the Plasma Physics Division of the American Physical Society where it was said that 5% of the world’s population had seen these ball-shaped lightning ; a percentage similar to the number of people who have seen ordinary lightning at close range. A word of warning: you can see many photos of so-called ball lightning on the internet, but they are actually overexposed photos of lightning. Moreover, there are many experts who point out that none of the photographs that we can see are really ball lightning.
We have historical evidence that small balls of bright light moving over the ground and then fading have been observed since the time of the Greeks. In general we can define it as a luminous ball of one to 25 centimeters in diameter that approximately looks like a 20-watt incandescent lamp .
It usually appears after a lightning strike, almost always moving at a maximum speed of about 10 km/h and hovering one meter above the ground . The most striking thing is that it moves erratically changing direction , and usually goes in the opposite direction to the prevailing breeze . They last on average about 25 seconds , so that the larger it is, the longer it remains and on the contrary, the more luminous, the less it lives . Also, the orange and blue ones seem to last longer than the rest.
How do they disappear? Either they shut off silently or they do so with a small pop . The latter happens more often in open spaces, sometimes causing significant damage. It is a strange explosion because it affects those objects that are conductors of electricity : there have been cases of electrical junction boxes that have appeared in the middle of the street.
Of course, they appear where you least expect it , either inside houses or even inside airplanes (by the way, they are not dangerous there). And even more fascinating: they pass through closed windows without damaging the glass. They do not produce heat although there are observations that the environment smells of ozone and nitrogen oxides, and they seem to cause static in radio receivers.
All of this raises unanswered questions : If it’s a stable sphere of plasma, it will be hot, but then it should rise like a balloon, and it doesn’t. Why does it move? Better yet, why do you usually do it against the wind? What is the energy source that maintains this almost constant brightness until it disappears instead of what one would expect, which would slowly fade over time?
Hundreds of articles and several books have been published discussing the phenomenon, formulating all sorts of hypotheses to explain its existence, but most raise more questions than they purport to answer. We can count up to 20 explanatory hypotheses, ranging from the most fanciful, that it is a piece of antimatter , to the most convoluted, such as that it is a light discharge driven by microwaves and that it moves along the field lines electromagnetic waves created by the air ionized by the lightning clouds where it occurs. And the glow? It is created because microwaves are trapped inside a plasma bubble . Another says that ball lightning is powered by the electric field associated with stray electric charges on the ground after lightning strikes . And another suggests that they are simply light trapped inside a bubble of highly compressed air . We also can’t forget the theory that suggests it’s the result of vaporized silica condensed into nanoparticles and pushed up by a shock wave of air.
Finally we have the Maser-Soliton Theory for which ball lightning in free air is caused by an atmospheric maser – analogous to a laser, but operating in the microwave range. Despite all these efforts, the oldest known mysterious atmospheric phenomenon eludes a convincing explanation.