Lightning strikes hitting the ground can produce ball lightning. Image Credit: PD - Codalo
Chinese researchers have managed to observe and film natural ball lightning for the first time.
Taking the form of a bright sphere of electrical energy, the enigmatic phenomenon was doubted to even exist at all until around the 1960s. Since then scientists have been able to recreate ball lightning in a lab, but nobody had ever been able to satisfactorily record a naturally occurring example.
Now a science team in China believe that they've achieved the impossible by recording footage of ball lightning that formed during a storm in Qinghai. Using a combination of spectrographs and video cameras, the researchers recorded the glowing orb of light as it rose 5 meters above the ground.
"There have been many research programs that routinely video or photograph natural and triggered lightning," said lightning specialist Martin Uman. "But none, as far as I am aware, has stumbled on a ball lightning."
The theory goes that when lightning strikes the ground it can store energy in silicon nanoparticles which then oxidize, releasing their energy in the form of a ball of pure silicon vapor.