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Ball Lightning Seen In Nature for First Time

January 20, 2014

A rare weather phenomenon known as ball lightning, or St. Elmo’s Fire, has been observed in nature for the first time by Chinese scientists. 

Scientists in the Quinhai region of China were monitoring a thunderstorm in 2012 with video cameras and spectrometer, when they recorded the ball lightning.

Ball lightning is a lightning phenomenon that happens during thunderstorms. It’s rare and unpredictable, which is why researchers don’t know much about it. It can last more than a second, which is considered long-lived for lightning, but it’s hard to capture and study.

In layman’s terms, ball lightning is a big flash of light that looks circular that appears in the sky during a storm. It sometimes has a blue glow and can emanate from objects like lightning rods or ship masts.

In a report published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry, researchers at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado last  year figured out how to reproduce ball lightning in the lab. They used electrodes partially submerged in electrolyte solution to create the high-power electric sparks. The result was bright white plasmoid balls.

(MORE: Lightning Safety Tips)

Because of the difficulty in capturing ball lightning, scientists don’t know much about it. A popular theory is when lightning hits something, it blasts a cloud of highly energized nanoparticles in to the air. Those nanoparticles emit a ball of light as they wear down.

MORE: Amazing Lightning Photos

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From the Florida Everglades. Credit: dhwicker

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