An ancient report that described a natural but mysterious weather phenomenon as being a “marvelous sign” was believed to have been the earliest description of ball lightning in England.
The description was found in an old monastic chronicle that was put together between the years 1180 and 1199 by a monk named Gervase from the Christ Church Cathedral in Canterbury. This mysterious weather phenomenon was documented in the almost 600-page chronicle on June 7, 1195 when a fiery spinning ball of light came from a dark cloud near the home of the bishop of Norwich.
This is the earliest credible record of ball lightning in England. In fact, the previous earliest depiction of the weather phenomenon was from the 17th century – specifically, on October 21, 1638 in Widecombe, Devon. In addition to the ball lightning, the chronicle also described solar and lunar eclipses, as well as floods and earthquakes. (A photograph of Gervase’s description of the ball lightning in the chronicle can be seen here.)
Gervase’s account of the weather event was incredibly similar to today’s reports of ball lightning. While his description was written back in the 12th century, it still remains a mysterious weather phenomenon even to this day with thousands of similar reports. Experts have been unable to reproduce the phenomenon in a lab, primarily because a lot of the witnesses have reported seeing different things during the events which makes it hard to determine what exactly they need to recreate.
These mysterious balls of light normally show up during thunderstorms. They look like floating orbs of light that can appear in different colors, such as red, orange, or yellow. They can be as small as a grapefruit or as large as a car. Witnesses have seen them dropping from clouds, and others have viewed them hovering just above the ground. Ball lightning vanishes within a few seconds of people spotting them. A strong smell and a hissing type of sound occasionally accompany the glowing spheres.
As for what causes ball lightning, nobody really has a concrete answer, but there are several theories, such as them being leftover ions that were sent to the ground after a strike of lightning. Some have suggested that it is silicon from vaporized soil burning up, while others think that it could be light that is trapped in a sphere of thin air.
The findings regarding Gervase’s report have been detailed in the journal of the Royal Meteorological Society.