Ball lightning is all in the mind, say Austrian physicists

Ball lightning is all in the mind, say Austrian physicists

Postby Laughing Man » Wed May 19, 2010 1:06 pm

Physicists in Austria say they have solved the conundrum of "ball lightning", mysterious glowing spherical apparitions which baffled boffins have struggled to explain for centuries.

According to Josef Peer and Alexander Kendl of the University of Innsbruck, there is in fact no such thing as ball lightning in reality. Rather, powerful magnetic fields created by ordinary lightning affect the brains of humans nearby so that they see things which aren't there.

According to Peer and Kendl's calculations, a certain type of long-lasting repetitive lightning strike emits magnetic fields very similar to those used in transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) - a medical technique use to hotwire activity in the brain.

"In the clinical application of TMS, luminous and apparently real visual perceptions in varying shapes and colors within the visual field of the patients and test persons are reported and well examined," says Kendl.

Thus the right kind of lightning strike nearby affects people's brains, accounting for long-accumulated reports of mysterious "ball lightning" phenomena during thunderstorms. Scientists have always struggled to explain just how these strange glowing spheres would be generated and sustained: it now appears at least possible that they aren't, in any physical sense.

Apparently an artificially induced image in the brain is called a "phosphene". Kendl adds:

"An observer located within few hundred metres of a long lightning stroke may experience a magnetic phosphene in the shape of a luminous spot."

The physicist says that this is much the simplest and likeliest explanation for ball lightning.

"Contrary to other theories describing floating fire balls, no new and other suppositions are necessary," he says, uncompromisingly.

The two boffins' paper is to be published in the journal Physics Letters A. It can also be read here
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Re: Ball lightning is all in the mind, say Austrian physicists

Postby Mikey » Wed May 19, 2010 1:13 pm

"Contrary to other theories describing floating fire balls, no new and other suppositions are necessary," he says, uncompromisingly.


Oh, good - because close-mindedness and the belief in one's own infallibility are always the hallmarks of good science. :roll:

Well, this doesn't explain anything about ball lightning perceived from more than a couple of meters away. I'd wait to pronounce this "truth" until I saw what actual MD's have to say about the medical aspect. I don't see why ball lightning is such a bugbear - natural, sustained electrical phenomena are accepted by modern science, such as St. Elmo's Fire, red sprites, blue jets, ELVES (which have many of the same qualities as ball lightning.)

In addition, isn't the most common symptom of that sort of exposure to a non-targeted magnetic field nausea and disorientation, NOT hallucination?
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Re: Ball lightning is all in the mind, say Austrian physicists

Postby Tyyr » Wed May 19, 2010 1:23 pm

Well if you're close enough to a sustained lighting strike for it to induce magnetic hallucinations the people who reported ball lighting would have also included the detail that they were blinded, deafened, and bleeding from the ears when they observed it.
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Re: Ball lightning is all in the mind, say Austrian physicists

Postby Mikey » Wed May 19, 2010 1:51 pm

Not to mention the burns from stray voltage.
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Re: Ball lightning is all in the mind, say Austrian physicists

Postby Mark » Sat May 22, 2010 2:54 am

Nice to see a valid and open minded scientific theory :roll:
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