Jun 26, 2016 I Paul Seaburn

Chinese Scientist May Have an Explanation for Ball Lightning

Ball lightning has been blamed for more UFO sightings than weather balloons and for more ghost sightings than reflections. Part of the problem is that, like UFOs and ghosts, no one can really explain ball lightning either. That may change with a new theory from a Chinese scientist that could explain how these sometimes tiny luminous balls form and how they can seemingly pass through walls to float inside houses and even airplanes.

While called “lightning” because it generally appears during thunderstorms, ball lightning doesn’t act like conventional lightning. It’s spherical, often small and is visible longer than a lightning bolt. Photographs of it are rare, attempts to recreate it in a lab are futile and stories about sightings can border on the unbelievable.

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An 'amazing' recreation of ball lightning appearing in a room

Enter H.C. Wu, a researcher at the Institute for Fusion Theory and Simulation (IFTS) and Department of Physics at China’s Zhejiang University. In his paper published recently in Scientific Reports, he claims to successfully explain many of the reported but unsubstantiated characteristics of ball lightning.

Wu’s theorizes that ball lightning begins when a bolt of conventional lightning hits the ground or an object and accelerates electrons, causing them to release microwave radiation. This radiation then charges the air around it, forming a “spherical plasma bubble” that envelops and traps the radiation. That spherical plasma bubble is ball lightning.

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Ball lightning or UFO?

This may explain outdoor ball lighting, but what about the luminescent floating orbs reportedly seen indoors and in airplane cabins? Wu claims that the electrons are moving at nearly the speed of light, which allows them to pass through walls and the metal skin of planes. Really?

He also postulates that the microwave radiation produces chemicals that cause ball lightning’s reportedly foul smell (plausible) and they give it the explosive powers often reported just prior to the smell (like an egg in a microwave?).

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Ball lightning, orb or something else?

Wu’s study proposes a number of ways ball lightning might be created in a lab but – in case any kids with access to electricity and microwaves read Scientific Reports - warns that ball lightning is “an alarm signal of the existence of ultrastrong microwaves and abundantly hazardous electrons near the ground or aircraft.”

Is this a sufficient explanation for ball lightning? Does it clear up any UFO, glowing orb or ghost sightings for you?

That’s what I thought.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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