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A photo purportedly depicting natural ball lightning, taken in 1987 by a student in Nagano, Japan.

Ball lightning is a debated and controversial atmospheric electrical phenomenon. The term refers to reports of luminous, usually spherical objects which vary from pea-sized to several meters in diameter. It is sometimes associated with thunderstorms, but lasts considerably longer than the split-second flash of a lightning bolt.

Laboratory experiments have produced effects that are visually similar to reports of ball lightning, but it is presently unknown whether these are actually related to any naturally occurring phenomenon. Scientific data on natural ball lightning are scarce owing to its infrequency and unpredictability. The presumption of its existence is based on reported public sightings, and has therefore produced somewhat inconsistent findings. Given inconsistencies and the lack of reliable data, the true nature of ball lightning is still unknown.[1] Until recently, ball lightning was often regarded as a fantasy or a hoax, but some serious scientific discussions and theories have attempted to explain it.


Historical accounts

In a 1960 study 5% of the US population reported having witnessed ball lightning.[2][3] Another study analyzed reports of 10,000 cases.[2][4]

A contemporary woodcut of the 1638 thunderstorm at Widecombe

The Great Thunderstorm

One of the earliest possible descriptions was reported during The Great Thunderstorm at a church in Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon, in England, on 21 October 1638. Four people died and approximately 60 were injured when, during a severe storm, an 8' (2.4m) ball of fire was described as striking and entering the church, nearly destroying it. Large stones from the church walls were hurled into the ground and through large wooden beams. The ball of fire allegedly smashed the pews and many windows, and filled the church with a foul sulfurous odor and dark, thick smoke.

The ball of fire reportedly divided into two segments, one exiting through a window by smashing it open, the other disappearing somewhere inside the church. The explanation at the time, because of the fire and sulfur smell, was that the ball of fire was "the devil" or the "flames of hell". Later, some blamed the entire incident on two people who had been playing cards in the pew during the sermon, thereby incurring God's wrath.[5]

Georg Richmann

A 1753 report depicts ball lightning as being lethal, when Professor Georg Richmann of Saint Petersburg, Russia, created a kite-flying apparatus similar to Benjamin Franklin's proposal a year earlier. Richmann was attending a meeting of the Academy of Sciences when he heard thunder, and ran home with his engraver to capture the event for posterity. While the experiment was underway, ball lightning appeared and traveled down the string, struck Richmann's forehead and killed him. The ball left a red spot on Richmann's forehead, his shoes were blown open, and his clothing was singed. His engraver was knocked unconscious. The doorframe of the room was split and the door was torn from its hinges.[6]

HMS Warren Hastings

An English journal reported that during an 1809 storm, three "balls of fire" appeared and "attacked" the British ship HMS Warren Hastings. The crew watched one ball descend, killing a man on deck and setting the main mast on fire. A crewman went out to retrieve the fallen body and was struck by a second ball, which knocked him back and left him with mild burns. A third man was killed by contact with the third ball. Crew members reported a persistent, sickening sulfur smell afterward.[7][8]

Ebenezer Cobham Brewer

Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, in his 1864 US edition of A Guide to the Scientific Knowledge of Things Familiar, discussed "globular lightning". He describes it as slow-moving balls of fire or explosive gas that sometimes fall to the earth or run along the ground during a thunderstorm. He said that the balls sometimes split into smaller balls and may explode "like a cannon".[9]

A 19th century depiction of ball lightning.

Tsar Nicholas II

Tsar Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia, reported witnessing what he called "a fiery ball" while in the company of his grandfather, Tsar Alexander II: "Once my parents were away," recounted the Tsar, "and I was at the all-night vigil with my grandfather in the small church in Alexandria. During the service there was a powerful thunderstorm, streaks of lightning flashed one after the other, and it seemed as if the peals of thunder would shake even the church and the whole world to its foundations. Suddenly it became quite dark, a blast of wind from the open door blew out the flame of the candles which were lit in front of the iconostasis, there was a long clap of thunder, louder than before, and I suddenly saw a fiery ball flying from the window straight towards the head of the Emperor. The ball (it was of lightning) whirled around the floor, then passed the chandelier and flew out through the door into the park. My heart froze, I glanced at my grandfather - his face was completely calm. He crossed himself just as calmly as he had when the fiery ball had flown near us, and I felt that it was unseemly and not courageous to be frightened as I was . . . After the ball had passed through the whole church, and suddenly gone out through the door, I again looked at my grandfather. A faint smile was on his face, and he nodded his head at me. My panic disappeared, and from that time I had no more fear of storms."[10]

Aleister Crowley

British occultist Aleister Crowley reported witnessing what he referred to as "globular electricity" during a thunderstorm on Lake Pasquaney[11] in New Hampshire in 1916. He was sheltered in a small cottage when he "noticed, with what I can only describe as calm amazement, that a dazzling globe of electric fire, apparently between six and twelve inches (15 - 30 cm) in diameter, was stationary about six inches below and to the right of my right knee. As I looked at it, it exploded with a sharp report quite impossible to confuse with the continuous turmoil of the lightning, thunder and hail, or that of the lashed water and smashed wood which was creating a pandemonium outside the cottage. I felt a very slight shock in the middle of my right hand, which was closer to the globe than any other part of my body."[12]

Other accounts

  • On 30 April 1877, a ball of lightning entered the Golden Temple at Amritsar, India, and exited through a side door. Several people observed the ball, and the incident is inscribed on the front wall of Darshani Deodhi.[13]
  • In July 1907 the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse in Western Australia was hit by ball lightning. Lighthouse keeper Patrick Baird was in the tower at the time and was knocked unconscious. His daughter Ethel recorded the event.[14]
  • Pilots in World War II described an unusual phenomenon for which ball lightning has been suggested as an explanation. The pilots saw small balls of light moving in strange trajectories, which came to be referred to as foo fighters.
  • Submariners in WWII gave the most frequent and consistent accounts of small ball lightning in the confined submarine atmosphere. There are repeated accounts of inadvertent production of floating explosive balls when the battery banks were switched in/out, especially if mis-switched or when the highly inductive electrical motors were mis-connected or disconnected. An attempt later to duplicate those balls with a surplus submarine battery resulted in several failures and an explosion.[15]
  • On 6 August 1994 a ball of lightning went through a closed window in Uppsala, Sweden, leaving a circular hole with a diameter of 5 centimeters. The incident was witnessed by residents in the area, and was recorded by a lightning strike tracking system[16] on the Division for Electricity and Lightning Research at Uppsala University.[17][18]


Descriptions of ball lightning vary wildly. It has been described as moving up and down, sideways or in unpredictable trajectories, hovering and moving with or against the wind; attracted to,[19] unaffected by, or repelled from buildings, people, cars and other objects. Some accounts describe it as moving through solid masses of wood or metal without effect, while others describe it as destructive and melting or burning those substances. Its appearance has also been linked to power lines[20] as well as during thunderstorms and also calm weather. Ball lightning has been described as transparent, translucent, multicolored, evenly lit, radiating flames, filaments or sparks, with shapes that vary between spheres, ovals, tear-drops, rods or disk-like.

The balls have been reported to disperse in many different ways, such as suddenly vanishing, gradually dissipating, absorption into an object, "popping," exploding loudly, or even exploding with force, which is sometimes reported as damaging. Accounts also vary on their alleged danger to humans, from lethal to harmless.

Laboratory experiments

Scientists have long attempted to produce ball lightning in laboratory experiments. While some experiments have produced effects that are visually similar to reports of natural ball lightning, it has not yet been determined whether there is any relation.

Nikola Tesla reportedly was able to artificially produce ~1.5" (3.8 cm) balls and made some demonstrations of his ability,[21] but he was really interested in higher voltages and powers, and remote transmission of power, so the balls he made were just a curiosity.[22]

An international scientific group holds regular symposia on ball lightning, called the "International Symposium on Ball Lightning" or ISBL: 1999, 2001, 2004 & 2006. The most recent symposium took place in Kaliningrad, Russia in 2008.[23] A related group uses the generic name "Unconventional Plasmas".[24]

A demonstration of the water discharge experiment.

Water discharge experiments

Scientific groups, including the Max Planck Institute, have reportedly produced a ball lightning-type effect by discharging a high-voltage capacitor in a tank of water.[25][26]

Home microwave oven experiments

Many modern experiments involve using a microwave oven to produce small rising glowing balls, often referred to as "plasma balls".

Generally, the experiments are conducted by placing a lit or recently extinguished match or other small object in a microwave oven. The burnt portion of the object flares up into a large ball of fire, while "plasma balls" can be seen floating near the ceiling of the oven chamber. The effect is caused by electricity arcing between the conductive carbon particles in the soot, similar to the way electricity arcs between the tines of a fork. This can damage the oven by leaving burn marks and causing high-voltage electrical discharge back into the oven's magnetron.

Some experiments describe covering the match with an inverted glass jar, which contains both the flame and the balls so that they will not damage the chamber walls. Other experimenters report that substituting a nickel for the match produces better results. Some experimenters have posted instructions, photos, and videos of these experiments.[27]

The plasma balls vanish about 30 ms after the microwave power is turned off, leaving uncertainty as to whether these are related to ball lightning or are independent phenomena. Experiments by Eli Jerby and Vladimir Dikhtyar in Israel revealed that microwave plasma balls are made up of nanoparticles with an average radius of 25 nm. The Israeli team demonstrated the phenomenon with copper, salts, water and carbon.[28]

Silicon experiments

Experiments in 2007 involved shocking silicon wafers with electricity, which vaporizes the silicon and induces oxidation in the vapors. The visual effect can be described as small glowing, sparkling orbs that roll around a surface. Two Brazilian scientists, Antonio Pavão and Gerson Paiva of the Federal University of Pernambuco[29] have reportedly consistently made small long-lasting balls using this method.[30][31] These experiments stemmed from the theory that ball lightning is actually oxidized silicon vapors (see vaporized silicon hypothesis, below).

Possible scientific explanations

An early attempt to explain ball lightning was recorded by Nikola Tesla in 1904,[32] but there is at present no widely-accepted explanation for ball lightning. Several theories have been advanced, however, since the phenomenon was brought into the scientific realm by the French Academy scientist François Arago.[33]

Vaporized silicon hypothesis

This hypothesis suggests that ball lightning consists of vaporized silicon burning through oxidation. Lightning striking Earth's soil could vaporize the silica contained within it, turning it into pure silicon vapor. As it cools, the silicon could condense into a floating aerosol, bound by its charge, glowing due to the heat of silicon recombining with oxygen. A recently published experimental investigation of this effect by evaporating pure silicon with an electric arc reported producing "luminous balls with lifetime in the order of seconds".[34][35][36] Videos of this experiment have been made available.[37]

Nanobattery hypothesis

Oleg Meshcheryakov suggests that ball lightning is made of composite nano or submicrometre particles, each particle constituting a battery. A surface discharge shorts these batteries, resulting in a current which forms the ball. His model is described as an aerosol, but not aerogel, model that explains all the observable properties and processes of ball lightning.[38][39]

Black hole hypothesis

Another hypothesis is that some extreme ball lightning is actually the passage of microscopic primordial black holes through the Earth's atmosphere as proposed by Mario Rabinowitz in Astrophysics and Space Science journal in 1999;[40] and earlier. Inspired by M. Fitzgerald’s account of ball lightning on 6 August 1868, in Ireland that lasted 20 minutes and left a 6 meter square hole, a 90 meter long trench, a second trench 25 meters long, and a small cave in the peat bog, Pace VanDevender, a plasma physicist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and his team found depressions consistent with Fitzgerald’s report and inferred that the evidence is inconsistent with thermal (chemical or nuclear) and electrostatic effects. An electromagnetically levitated, compact mass of >20,000 kg would produce the reported effects but requires a density of > 2000 times the density of gold, which implies a miniature black hole. He and his team found a second event in the peat-bog witness plate from 1982 and are currently trying to geolocate electromagnetic emission consistent with the hypothesis. His colleagues at the institute agreed that, implausible though the hypothesis seemed, it was worthy of their attention.[41]

Other hypotheses

Several other theories have been proposed to explain ball lightning:

  • Spinning electric dipole hypothesis. A 1976 article by V. G. Endean postulated that ball lightning could be described as an electric field vector spinning in the microwave frequency region.[42]
  • Electrostatic Leyden jar models. Stanley Singer discussed (1971) this type of hypothesis and suggested that the electrical recombination time would be too short for the ball lightning lifetimes often reported.[43]
  • J. Pace VanDevender separates extreme ball lightning of the highly energetic violent kind, and proposes a theory of neutrinos and heavy neutrinos.[44]
  • Fedosin S.G. and Kim A.S. proposed (2000) Electron-ionic model. [46]
  • Hallucinations associated with epileptic seizures. In a peer reviewed publication Cooray and Cooray (2008)[47][48] stated that the features of hallucinations experienced by patients having seizures in the occipital lobe are similar to the observed features of ball lightning. The study also showed that the rapidly changing magnetic field of a close lightning flash has a strength which is large enough to excite the neurons in the brain strengthening the possibility of lightning-induced seizure in the occipital lobe of a person located close to a lightning strike establishing the connection between epileptic hallucination mimicking ball lightning and thunderstorms. The authors suggest that some of the reported ball lightning observations are hallucinations experienced during the epileptic seizures in the occipital lobe.

In popular culture


  • Among the ancients of Japanese mythology, there is a myth that ball lightning is the wrath of the thunder god, Raijin. Another shinto explanation is an apparition of the thunder being Raiju.
  • M. l'abbé de Tressan, in Mythology compared with history: or, the fables of the ancients elucidated from historical records:

...during a storm which endangered the ship Argo, fires were seen to play round the heads of the Tyndarides, and the instant after the storm ceased. From that time, those fires which frequently appear on the surface of the ocean were called the fire of Castor and Pollux. When two were seen at the same time, it announced the return of calm, when only one, it was the presage of a dreadful storm. This species of fire is frequently seen by sailors, and is a species of ignis fatuus. (page 417)

  • Guyanese Mythology holds that the ole higue, the Guyanese form of a human vampire, capable of discarding her skin takes the form of an old woman living in a community. At night she transforms herself into a ball of fire, flies from her own house into the sky and then lands on the roof of another house where there is a baby in a cradle underneath a sheet whose blood she will suck dry and then go home.[citation needed]


  • An early fictional reference to ball lightning appears in a children's book set in the 19th century by Laura Ingalls Wilder.[49] The books are considered historical fiction, but the author always insisted they were descriptive of actual events in her life. In Wilder's description, three separate balls of lightning appear during a winter blizzard near a cast iron stove in the family's kitchen. They are described as appearing near the stovepipe, then rolling across the floor, only to disappear as the mother (Caroline Ingalls) chases them with a willow-branch broom.[50]
  • In Eric Frank Russell's novel Sinister Barrier, ball lightning is the dying stage of the Vitons - normally invisible spheres of pure energy which feed on human emotions.
  • In S.O.S. Meteors: Mortimer in Paris, a volume in Blake and Mortimer by Edgar P. Jacobs, ball lightning manifests as one of a number of events apparently connected with weather distortion.
  • In Pynchon's Against the Day, Merle Rideout, a photographer and lightning-rod salesman, befriends Skip, a telepathically communicative manifestation of ball lightning.
  • In Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth," the protagonists encounter ball lightning while crossing an underground sea. It magnetized the iron on their raft and reversed the poles of their compass, which made them unknowingly go south instead of north.
  • In Eyrbyggja saga a ball lightning is sighted at Fróðá every night for a whole week and portents later pestilence and hauntings (chapter 52).
  • In Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde Ball lightning is one of the most feared things for residents of the Collective. It is said to cause horrible disfigurement and be attracted to both metal and living creatures. It was also used to cover up the death of one of East-Carmine's 'Yellows.'

See also


  1. ^ Ball lightning bamboozles physicist
  2. ^ a b "Ask the experts". Scientific American. Retrieved 4 April 2007. 
  3. ^ McNally, J. R. (1960). "Preliminary Report on Ball Lightning". Proceedings of the Second Annual Meeting of the Division of Plasma Physics of the American Physical Society (Paper J-15 ed.). Gatlinburg. pp. 1–25. 
  4. ^ Grigoriev, A. I. (1988). Y. H. Ohtsuki. ed. "Statistical Analysis of the Ball Lightning Properties". Science of Ball Lightning (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co.): 88–134. 
  5. ^ Amery, Peter Fabyan Sparke; John S. Amery, Joshua Brooking Rowe (1905). Devon Notes and Queries. p. viii.,M1. 
  6. ^ Clarke, Ronald W. (1983). Benjamin Franklin, A Biography. Random House. pp. 87. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham (1864). A Guide to the Scientific Knowledge of Things Familiar. pp. 13–14.;cc=moa;idno=ajn0728.0001.001;view=toc;frm=frameset. 
  10. ^ "Tsar-Martyr Nicholas Ii And His Family". Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  11. ^ There is no present-day Lake Pasquaney in New Hampshire. New Hampshire's Newfound Lake has a Camp Pasquaney.
  12. ^ Crowley, Aleister (5 December 1989). "Chp. 83". The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autobiography. Penguin. ISBN 0140191895. 
  13. ^ Miracle saved panth
  14. ^ "The Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse". Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  15. ^ "Ball lightning - and the charge sheath vortex". Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  16. ^ This may be an incorrect translation of the word "blixtlokaliseringssystem" from the university article cited in the sources
  17. ^ Larsson, Anders (23 April 2002). "Ett fenomen som gäckar vetenskapen" (in Swedish). Uppsala University. Retrieved 19 November 2007. 
  18. ^ "Finns det klotblixtar?" (in Swedish). Dagens Nyheter. 9 September 2003. Retrieved 19 November 2007. 
  19. ^ "BL_Info_10". Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  20. ^ "Unusual Phenomea Reports: Ball Lightning". Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  21. ^ "The New Wizard of the West". Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  22. ^ Tesla, Nikola (1978). Nikola Tesla - Colorado Springs Notes 1899-1900. Nolit (Beograd, Yugoslavia), 368-370. ISBN 978-0913022269
  23. ^ "First Call for Papers". Tenth International Symposium on Ball Lightning (Kant University of Kaliningrad, Russia). July 2008. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  24. ^ [ ISBL'01 International Symposium on Ball Lightning
  25. ^ "'Ball lightning' created in German laboratory | COSMOS magazine". COSMOS magazine. 2006-06-07. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  26. ^ Youichi Sakawa; Kazuyoshi Sugiyama, Tetsuo Tanabe, and Richard More (12 July 2006). "Fireball Generation in a Water Discharge". Plasma and Fusion Research: Rapid Communications. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  27. ^ "How to make a Stable Plasmoid ( Ball Lightning ) with the GMR ( Graphite Microwave Resonator ) by Jean-Louis Naudin". 22 December 2005. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  28. ^ "Creating the 4th state of matter with microwaves by Halina Stanley". August 13, 2009. Retrieved 6 October 2009. 
  29. ^ "Universidade Federal de Pernambuco". Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  30. ^ "Pesquisadores da UFPE geram, em laboratório, fenômeno atmosférico conhecido como bolas luminosas". 16 January 2007. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  31. ^ Ball Lightning Mystery Solved? Electrical Phenomenon Created in Lab. 21 November 2005. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  32. ^ Tesla, Nikola (5 March 1904). "The Transmission of Electrical Energy Without Wires". Electrical World and Engineer. 
  33. ^ François Arago, Meteorological Essays by , Longman, 1855
  34. ^ Paiva, Gerson Silva; Antonio Carlos Pavão, Elder Alpes de Vasconcelos, Odim Mendes, Jr., Eronides Felisberto da Silva, Jr. (2007). "Production of Ball-Lightning-Like Luminous Balls by Electrical Discharges in Silicon". Phys. Rev. Lett. 98 (4): 048501. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.98.048501. PMID 17358820. 
  35. ^ "Lightning balls created in the lab". New Scientist. 10 January 2007. "A more down-to-earth theory, proposed by John Abrahamson and James Dinniss at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, is that ball lightning forms when lightning strikes soil, turning any silica in the soil into pure silicon vapour. As the vapour cools, the silicon condenses into a floating aerosol bound into a ball by charges that gather on its surface, and it glows with the heat of silicon recombining with oxygen." 
  36. ^ "Ball Lightning Mystery Solved? Electrical Phenomenon Created in Lab". National Geographic News. 22 January 2007. 
  37. ^
  38. ^ Meshcheryakov, Oleg (2007). "Ball Lightning–Aerosol Electrochemical Power Source or A Cloud of Batteries" (PDF). Nanoscale Res. Lett. 2 (3): 319. doi:10.1007/s11671-007-9068-2. Retrieved 27 June 2007. 
  39. ^ "Ball lightning's frightening . . . but finally explained". EE Times. 29 August 2007.;jsessionid=QHGIIZHBKYF0KQSNDLPSKH0CJUNN2JVN?articleID=201802939. 
  40. ^ "[astro-ph/0212251] Little Black Holes:Dark Matter And Ball Lightning". 11 December 2002. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  41. ^ Muir, Hazel (23 December 2006). "Blackholes in your backyard". New Scientist 192 (2583/2584): 48–51. doi:10.1016/S0262-4079(06)61459-0. 
  42. ^ Endean, V.G.,1976, Nature, 263,753,754.
  43. ^ Singer, Stanley (1971). The Nature of Ball Lightning. New York: Plenum Press. 
  44. ^ "The IEEE, Plasma Cosmology and Extreme Ball Lightning". Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  45. ^ Smirnov, 1987, Physics Reports, (Review Section of Physical Letters,152, No. 4, 177–226.
  46. ^ Fedosin S.G., Kim A.S. The Physical Theory of Ball Lightning. Applied Physics , No. 1, 2001, P. 69 – 87; Electron-ionic model of ball lightning
  47. ^ pdf Cooray and Cooray, 2008
  48. ^ Cooray, G. and V. Cooray, 2008, "Could some ball lightning observations be optical hallucinations caused by epileptic seizures, The open access atmospheric science journal, vol. 2, 101 – 105
  49. ^ Wilder, Laura Ingalls (1937). On the Banks of Plum Creek. Harper Trophy. 
  50. ^ Getline, Meryl (17 October 2005). "Playing with (St. Elmo's) fire". USA Today. 

Further reading

  • Barry, James Dale (1980). Ball Lightning and Bead Lightning. New York: Plenum Press. 
  • Cade, Cecil Maxwell; Delphine Davis (1969). The Taming of the Thunderbolts. New York: Abelard-Schuman Limited. 
  • Coleman, Peter F. (2004). Great Balls of Fire—A Unified Theory of Ball Lightning, UFOs, Tunguska and other Anomalous Lights. Christchurch, NZ: Fireshine Press. 
  • Coleman, P.F. 2006, J.Sci.Expl., Vol. 20, No.2, 215–238.
  • Golde, R. H. (1977). Lightning. Bristol: John Wright and Sons Limited. 
  • Golde, R. H. (1977). Lightning Volume 1 Physics of Lightning. Academic Press. 
  • Uman, Martin A. (1984). Lightning. Dover Publications. 
  • Viemeister, Peter E. (1972). The Lightning Book. Cambridge: MIT Press. 

External links

Simple English

Ball lightning is a glowing ball of lightning that sometimes appears in a thunderstorm, but usually lasts much longer than lightning. Scientists do not understand ball lightning very well, and some even do not think ball lightning is real, because it is so strange.[1] However, it has been widely reported in weather journals by many trustworthy people.[1] So, it is very possible that it is real.



Those who have seen it say it's the size of a grapefruit or basketball; it has even been said to be as big as a car.[1] The glowing ball is either red, orange, or yellow. A few people have seen it falling from clouds.[1] Sometimes, ball lightning floats or glides just above the ground for a few seconds, or it can roll on the surface of an object. Hissing noises come from the fiery orb. Some have even thought it was a UFO. Ball lightning sometimes explodes loudly, while other times it just quietly disappears. It has been known to smash or simply go through windows, hopping and sizzling across the floor, and then disappear into things like TVs or up the chimmney.[1] Some say that ball lightning can kill humans, while others say that its effect on humans are harmless.


Many people are said to have seen ball lightning. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer wrote about "globular lightning", saying they may fall to the ground or explode like a cannon.[2] Laura Ingalls Wilder writes in her book about ball lightning,[3] saying that when she was little, she saw balls of light, which her mother chases them away with a broom.[4]

Czar Nicholas II, Russia's last emperor, said he had seen ball lightning:

During the service there was a powerful thunderstorm, streaks of lightning flashed one after the other, and it seemed as if the peals of thunder would shake even the church and the whole world to its foundations. Suddenly it became quite dark, a blast of wind from the open door blew out the flame of the candles which were lit in front of the iconostasis, there was a long clap of thunder, louder than before, and I suddenly saw a fiery ball flying from the window straight towards the head of the Emperor. The ball (it was of lightning) whirled around the floor, then passed the chandelier and flew out through the door into the park. My heart froze, I glanced at my grandfather - his face was completely calm. He crossed himself just as calmly as he had when the fiery ball had flown near us, and I felt that it was unseemly and not courageous to be frightened as I was . . . After the ball had passed through the whole church, and suddenly gone out through the door, I again looked at my grandfather. A faint smile was on his face, and he nodded his head at me. My panic disappeared, and from that time I had no more fear of storms.

Czar Nicholas II[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Oard, Michael (1997). The NIV Study Bible. P.O. Box 126, Green Forest, AR 72638: Master Books. ISBN 0-89051-211-6. 
  2. Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham (1864). A Guide to the Scientific Knowledge of Things Familiar. pp. 13–14.;cc=moa;idno=ajn0728.0001.001;view=toc;frm=frameset. 
  3. Wilder, Laura Ingalls (1937). On the Banks of Plum Creek. Harper Trophy. 
  4. Getline, Meryl (17 October 2005). "Playing with (St. Elmo's) fire". USA Today. 
  5. "Tsar-Martyr Nicholas Ii And His Family". Retrieved 13 July 2009. 

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