Your Burning Questions About Ball Lightning Answered


Image credit – Wikipedia

Ball Lightning or Globe Lightning is hands down one of nature’s most mysterious phenomena. It has mystified us for centuries and still to this day little is know about it.

All we know is it usually appears during thunderstorms as a floating glowing sphere and can be a range of colors from yellow, blue, or orange. It’s usually gone as fast as it appears lasting only a few seconds at most.

Check out our compiled list full of facts about ball lightning to learn more.


Is Ball Lightning a Myth?


No, scientists do now mostly agree that this very strange phenomenon is real but have cautioned that a majority of the “Ball Lightning” stories are not that and were caused by something else entirely. Possibly hallucinations caused by the magnetic fields produced in storms.

From around the time of the ancient Greeks, possible ball lightning sightings have captivated the imagination of humanity from all corners of the globe and have inspired countless mythical stories.

The crew aboard the HMS Warren Hastings more than 200 hundred years ago were reportedly attacked by balls of fire that seemly appearing out of nowhere in the sky. Those fireballs supposedly set fire to the ship and managed to kill three people. Sailors tales? maybe, maybe not.

Aleister Crowley, the British occultist, penned in his biography that a “dazzling globe of electric fire” appeared in his cottage. He said that the mysterious floating ball instantly exploded not long after forming. This was close to a century later.

In Australia, a common folklore tale is Min Min lights, which are strange fuzzy lights that follow people around at night time.

In England,  will-o’-wisps, mischievous fairies will try to lead any travelers who cross their path astray. Descried as little balls of glowing light.


How Rare is Ball Lightning?


Ball lightning is extremely rare. One study in1960 proposed that ball lightning has been seen by only 5 percent of the population of Earth. This is actually about the same number of people who have seen ordinary lighting strikes, as in the actual impact point of it.

Some people just have all the luck.


Has Ball Lightning Been Photographed?


Yes, on accident! In 2012 a small group of Chinese scientists was observing a thunderstorm in Qinghai China when ball lighting about 15 feet away appeared out of thin air and lasted only a little more than a second.

A camera along with slitless spectrographs was recording at the time. Back at their lab, it was discovered that the orb they witnessed contained the exact same elements found in the soil, being silicon, iron, and calcium.

“The spectral analysis indicates that the radiation from soil elements is present for the entire lifetime of the BL [ball lightning],” the team’s report concluded.

The recording of this event has not yet been released.


What Causes Ball Lightning?


It has been theorized that ball lightning results from a lightning ground strike that then creates a reaction between oxygen and vaporized elements from the surrounding soil. This comes from the Lanzhou research paper, the same group of scientists who first photograph and recorded ball lighting (above).

Another theory published in 2012 postulates that the presence of glass is maybe responsible. Ions in the atmosphere could pile up on the surface of a window and that could produce enough of an electrical field and cause a discard on the other side.

Yet another theory published in 2016 states that the microwave radiation produced by a lightning strike could become trapped in a plasma bubble, resulting in ball lightning.

All different but they all seem to agree that the presence of normal lightning is a requirement for ball lightning to take shape.


How Dangerous is Ball Lightning and Can Ball lightning Kill You?


Yes, ball lightning can be dangerous, if you believe the stories out there like the one mentioned above then ball lightning has been responsible for more than a few deaths.

One such story and probably the most well-documented one as well as horrific is when lightning struck a church at Widecombe-in-the-Moor on October 21, 1638. The ball lightning crashed through a window and descended upon the churchgoers. It is said that 4 people were killed and possibly up to 60 injured.


Ball Lightning Indoors?


Yes, Ball lighting can be the ultimate uninvited house guest.

Unsurprisingly ball lightning has strange unpredictable movement patterns. It usually moves parallel to the earth, that not horizontal like normal lightning.

It can suddenly materialize indoors out of nowhere or come through a window open or closed(explained above). It can even travel through thin nonmetallic walls or bricks purportedly.

Lucky for us the ball lighting that visits us inside appears to be harmless and no injuries have ever been reported.


Ball Lightning in Pop Culture


New York Times bestselling author, Cixin Liu’s Ball Lightning is a fictionalized look into this. It tells the story of 2 people driven to a life of science because of loss in their life.

The main character Chen wants to understand ball lighting after his parents are killed by it inside their home. From then on he is driven to understand everything he can about ball lightning. What he discovers is more than he ever imagined.

An excellent read through I would not recommend reading this book on a dark stormy day. Get it below.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments