ᴛʜᴇ ʀᴀʀᴇ ᴘʜᴇɴᴏᴍᴇɴᴏɴ ᴏғ BALL LIGHTNING

The electrical storm seems to be momentarily intensifying, a sudden spell of chaos over this otherwise wet and dreary afternoon. The darkening sight outside your farmhouse window is illuminated every so often, with the sudden burst of blinding light, blue streaks of lightning crackle and arc across the distant countryside. What a fierce world this would be, if mother nature always had such a temperament. Thankfully, you remind yourself, such demonstrations of unbridled wrath are often few and far between. Just as the winds begin to die down, just as the thunder calms and the lightning ceases you breathe a sigh of relief, the storm is passing. You’ve weathered the uncertainty of chaos. Only now, a new form of uncertainty chooses to reveal itself. The kitchen is illuminated with a bluish hue, as the light bleeds like a phantom through the wall. Your eyes widen in awe and disbelief, as this intensely glowing orb of energy, this ball of lightning passes through a wall and directly into your home. Defying your understanding of physics and nature alike, the orb continues to pass through the walls of your home as you scramble after it, fearful and amazed. Until finally, without even the faintest of sounds, this anomalous orb of light vanishes without a trace. As far fetched as this scenario seems, this is the experience shared by some who claim to have witnessed what is known as Ball Lightning.

For years I’ve heard anecdotal accounts regarding sightings of unusual spheres of floating light. These accounts varying from the more common, orbs of light drifting through the countryside during/after electrical storms, to sightings of balls of (often blueish, though sometimes red, orange and fiery in appearance) “lightning” passing through the walls of a person’s home and drifting through the air, completely unobstructed, like some bizarrely incorporeal energy. Despite the many alleged sightings of this phenomenon, at this time, there is no proof or tangible evidence that ball lighting actually does or ever has existed. There also isn’t a definitively agreed upon, scientific explanation for what could actually explain this extremely unusual occurrence.

One of the most well-known sightings was that of R. C. Jennison during a flight from New York to Washington in 1963:

“I was seated near the front of the passenger cabin of an all-metal airliner (Eastern Airlines Flight EA 539) on a late night flight from New York to Washington. The aircraft encountered an electrical storm during which it was enveloped in a sudden bright and loud electrical discharge (0005 h EST, March 19, 1963). Some seconds after this a glowing sphere a little more than 20 cm in diameter emerged from the pilot’s cabin and passed down the aisle of the aircraft approximately 50 cm from me, maintaining the same height and course for the whole distance over which it could be observed.”

Sightings of “globular” balls of light/energy have been occurring throughout history all over the world. In the 17th Century there were accounts of descending orbs of fire, believed to be a symbol of God’s wrath. Even the last emperor of Russia, Tsar Nikolai II (Никола́й II Алекса́ндрович) reported witnessing a spectacle of ball lighting floating around, drifting at varying heights, gliding along the floor at one point, in a small Alexandrian Church, during a fierce thunderstorm.

In more superstitious times, folklore the world over may have had different names for this very same phenomenon, one such name could have been Will-o’-the-wisp. A wisp was a term given to a handful of straw, that could be lit to fuel a small flame. In other words, will of the wisp meant a sentient flame, a light source that could move about freely on its own.

In the Australian outback, for thousands of years the Aboriginals have called a mysterious light source Min min, believing to follow these lights means to never be seen again. Aarnivalkea in Finland. Iiekko, Irrbloss, and Iygtemand in the Netherlands. Aleya in Bangladesh. Chir batti in regions around Pakistan. La Candileja and Luz mala in parts of South America.

Alternatively, there could be unrelated origins/causes that create this visual anomaly which are all considered to be “ball lightning” when that may not be the case at all. The glowing spheres appear in different sizes, from as small as a pea to several meters wide. Varying colors, though most frequently a luminous blue. In some accounts the orbs hiss and crackle, others are reportedly silent. Some versions of events indicate the orbs have catastrophic interactions with their environment, in some cases resulting even in human death. But in other sightings, they can pass through objects/walls and seem as though they do not interact with the physical world at all. Most witnesses report this spectacle is brief, ranging from a few seconds to at most a few minutes. While generally the trajectory of the floating orb is assumed random and erratic, some few believe ball lighting moves in a slow, purposeful manner, indicating that like the old stories say, a sentient source of light.

Is ball lightning the result of very unique conditions, creating something so rare that its properties leave us (for the time being) utterly perplexed? At the moment it rests on the cusp of the paranormal spectrum, because there is still so much to be understood. Many have suggested the nature of Ball Lightning is as elusive as any other Unidentified Flying Object because it simply isn’t of this world and is so far removed from our understanding. Others have put forward (similarly to the myths and folklore of old) that there is some spiritual/religious/divine meaning to the existence of Ball Lightning.

In 1960, in a paper titled the “Preliminary Report on Ball Lightning” by J. R. McNally, it was estimated that 5% of the world population had at some stage witnessed ball lightning. So the next time you’re experiencing stormy weather conditions, keep your eyes peeled for the elusive spectacle most live their lives without ever witnessing. Then if you do catch a glimpse, you’ll be one step closer than most to understanding, what is Ball Lightning?

One thought on “ᴛʜᴇ ʀᴀʀᴇ ᴘʜᴇɴᴏᴍᴇɴᴏɴ ᴏғ BALL LIGHTNING

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