Jamie and Will are set into the mountains of Colorado to investigate a bizarre tornado touchdown that did not produce precipitation. While they are in the mountains, they fine an area of forest that is being clear-cut by a secret government organization and used to launch rockets. Apparently, this government organization is sending up rockets to pull down lightning to create their own deadly weather. When Jamie and Will experiment this hypothesis by sending up their own rocket, dozens or balls of lightning fall from the sky and bounce along the ground. Although this is only a scene from the movie "Storm Chasers: Revenge of the Twister," ball lightning actually is thought to exist. The question researchers ask is, what is ball lightning? The only aspect scientists know for sure it that ball lightning is a type of lightning that appears as a glowing ball of energy floating or bouncing through the air.
First of all, ball lightning is a sphere of light that can come in a multiple range of sizes, colors, and time of existence. According to Schonland lightning balls can range in size from a half of inch to six feet in diameter, the color can be red, white, yellow, or blue, and its life can last from a few seconds to a few minutes (54). He also explains the movement of ball lightning over the ground as bouncing, rolling, and hovering (54). Muir says that this type of lightning can shine like a one hundred watt light bulb but it does not seem to give off any heat (1). Many scientists say that ball lightning is an extremely rare event. Others go as far as doubt the existence of this phenomenon.
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This leads to the question of whether ball lightning is real or not. Meteorology textbooks in the first half of the twentieth century said a very little about lightning in the form of a ball and most people who witnessed ball lightning did not have the scientific training (Westrum 1). In the 1930’s J.W. Humphrey’s, an official of the U.S. Wheather Bureau, argues that ball lightning was used as an optical illusion (1). Accordingly to Stanley Singer, a lightning flash observed by a person out of the corner of their eye may appear in the form of a ball. The intensity of the lightning flash leaves a temporary blind spot on the retina and when the person moves their head, the ball of light they see moves with them, appearing to bounce of hover (1). However, with about 10,000 reported sightings of ball lightning in the past few decades, most scientists have agreed that it dos actually exist (Muir 1).
So if ball lightning is real, what is it made of?
There are countless theories on how ball lightning forms along with many more theories that have small variations to them. One of the main theories given by scientists is that ball lightning is made up of plasma trapped inside a magnetic field. Lightning usually has horizontal and sometimes vertical magnetic fields surrounding it (Mystery 1). When these horizontal and vertical fields are both present, they form a ball in which many scientists believe plasma could be held. Once this trapped plasma cools off, the electrons return to the atoms of the sir that they were taken from and the ball disappears (Mystery 1). The problem with the plasma explanation is that plasma always expands unless great efforts are taken to confine it and the force of the proposed magnetic fields that contain it would have to be enormous (Weiss 2).
Another popular theory is that ball lightning consists of silicon that is vaporized into a fine dust after lightning strikes the soil (Muir 1). This theory, thought up by John Abrahamson, a chemical engineers of the University of Canterbury, New Zealand says that the silicon dust is then combined together by electrical charges into a ball of energy that would give off its own light. Though this theory sounds plausible, Weiss explains that is ball lightning whenever struck the soil, then it would not be so rarely seen (3). Most scientists agree that ball lightning can only be explained through a combination of theories. There are scientists, says Muir, who believe that "the wisdom of more than tea fields of science will be needed to explain the bizarre effect" (1).
There are of course multiple far out explanations that have been created to try to explain ball lightning. Since science can not yet fully explain this phenomenon, people have claims that ball lightning could be matter-antimatter annihilation, spontaneous bursts of nuclear fusion, pr perhaps even the dark matter of the universe (Weiss 1). People fear what they cannot explain and therefore will try to explain it by whatever way they possibly can.
Scientists are now attempting to create their own ball lightning in the lab. Scientists believe that if they can make their own ball lightning and fully understan it, then it might be a way to contain high temperature reactions (Muir 2).
Weiss says that one use or man-made balls of energy has already been though of by U.S. military scientists. Balls of a porous and lightweight material called aero gel could be used as a potential missile-decoys for war planes because they would emit missile-fooling infrared radiation when launched into the air (4).
Scientists have also discovered that some cases involving ghosts and many cases describing UFO sightings could be explained by ball lightning. Physical chemist David Turner believes that ball lightning may be responsible for the unexplained movement of objects that some people think is ghosts (Muir 2). There is already evidence that ball lightning can move through windows, walls, and doors. In January of 1984, a ball of lightning enters a soviet airliner that was in flight over the black sea. The pilots witnessed the ball hovering in the front end of the plane before it vanished only to reappear inside the plane. Once the plane landed, it was discovered that there were holes in the front and back of the fuselage of the aircraft (Corliss 1).
Scientists have used ball lightning to explain many UFO sightings as well, first of all, Hellman explains that, "A fifty-foot object half a mile away will create the same size image on the retina as a one-foot object fifty feet away" (142). Without there being some other object of known size close to it, the size of the object cannot be determined. People who spot UFOТs also say they the disappear at the speed of light, zooming away into the night. Hellman explains this by saying that it is an optical illusion caused by the rapid burnout of the plasma that may make up ball lightning. What someone may see as an object moving away is actually plasma shrinking in size (Hellman 151). UFO believers point out that a blip on a radar screen must be a solid object, in this case an alien spaceship. However, this is not true. Auroras occasionally show up on radar and obviously and aurora is not a solid object (Hellman 151).
Though scientist still are not sure of why or how ball lightning forms, they will continues working on this mystery because it could create a great source of energy for the future. With more evidence of ball lightning being discovered, it can explain some of the mysteries of UFOТs and ghosts. Eventually scientists may discover how ball lightning forms and be ale to create their own. However, do not expect to be rained on anytime soon by ball lightning that is pulled down from the sky by rockets.
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