Feeds

Ball lightning is all in the mind, say Austrian physicists

Thunderstorms' magno-field causes brain to malfunction

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

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. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Simon's says quantum computing will work
Boffins blast algorithm with half a dozen qubits
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.