What is Ball Lightning?

It was the day after 4th of July, 1852 and a strange occurrence was experienced by a Parisian man, who claimed to have witnessed an unexplainable sight referred to as “ball lightning.” Skeptics dismiss this claim because the reports were given by common people and not by scientists, who have not established a theory for this supposed occurrence. There is also no evidence to back up reports and the photographs that do exist are questionable.


The Parisian claimed that following a thunderclap, a fireball entered his house through his fireplace that was located on the fourth floor of an apartment building. He said that the ball of fire moved to the middle of the room before returning to the fireplace and escaping. He said that it exploded before leaving the chimney, leaving behind noticeable damage. His reports state that the fireball was bright, but did not emit heat.


This was not the first sighting regarding ball lightning. A Russian by the name of G.W. Richman first investigated the subject, which ultimately led to his demise. While attempting to measure the energy that a lightning strike gave off, he was struck in the face by a “small, blue, fist-sized sphere” that emerged from the electrodes of his equipment. Soon after, the sphere abruptly exploded, killing Richman and leaving his assistant unconscious.


During an electric storm in 1849 Paris, a red ball was spotted, hovering 20 feet above a tree. The tree caught on fire, fiercely burning until it burst open, releasing jagged bolts of lightning everywhere. A house that was located close to the tree was hit, leaving a hole the size of a cannonball. The rest of the ball spun about, knocking down bystanders until it exploded with great energy. In Kansas, a large ball of fire was sighted, destroying brick buildings and windows. This was spotted in 1919, where once again the ball of fire eventually exploded.


England has reports of a red ball of fire being sighted during a violent thunderstorm in 1970. Reports state that the ball “crackled” for a moment before exploding with quite considerable noise, sending jagged flashes of lightning in all directions. 2,500 television sets in the area were affected by this phenomenon.


The scientific data surrounding ball lightning is slim. Scientists dub reports of such a sight as being unreliable and made up. Out of all the photographs claiming to be proof of ball lightning, it is said that only three show promise. The varying descriptions of this phenomena cause skeptics to deny its existence. Some people claim that ball lightning loudly explodes, while others say it vanishes without a sound. Some say the ball exists for a couple of seconds while others state it could be as long as a few minutes. This causes discord when figuring out how much energy is produced with such an occurrence. According to witnesses, ball lightning could also be large or small, as well as appear in a variety of colors, such as purple, blue and orange.