Aleister Crowley once reported what he referred to as globular electricity in 1916, “what I can only describe as calm amazement, that a dazzling globe of electric fire, apparently between six and twelve inches in diameter was stationary about six inches below and to the right of my knee.” Mr. Crowley, it may not be all in your head.
A Brazilian team has managed to make similar spheres of light in the lab, while getting them to bounce around for several seconds.
The real mystery here is that ball lightning is a rare occurrence, where few people (approx. 3,000 in US) have actually encountered it. Ball lightning reportedly floats in the air and looks like a sphere, teardrop, or rod-like shape. Many have been said to be red, yellow, blue, or white in color, sometimes transparent, and are commonly associated with large thunderstorms; although, some claim to have experienced this phenomenon during normal weather.
It is typically the size of a grapefruit and lasts for a few seconds or minutes, sometimes hovering, even bouncing along the ground.
Many have made valiant efforts to explain ball lightning including Nikola Tesla in 1904, but a theory proposed by John Abrahamson and James Dinniss at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, claims this is the result of lighting striking soil; thereby converting silica within the soil into a vapor.
Antonio Pavao and Gerson Paiva from the Federal University of Pernambuco in Brazil decided to test this theory by placing silicon between two electrodes and running a current through them. Moving the electrodes away from each other created an electrical arc which shot out glowing pieces of silicon.
This continued to occur until, suddenly, a sphere the size of a ping pong ball formed, and lasted around 8 seconds. ”The luminous balls seem to be alive,” says Pavao.
They suggested the ball lighting was spinning by the movement of smoke trails that were left behind the orb, and estimated that they were approx 2000 Kelvin; hot enough to burn a hole in Paiva’s jeans!
Few have had little success reproducing ball lightning using microwaves; which some disagree on whether it is the same phenomenon for they disappeared milliseconds after the microwaves were taken away.
These silica based orbs of lightning are by far the longest-lived made in the lab to date. These amazing spheres of light can be seen at http://www.espacociencia.pe.gov.br/multimidia.php