Feeds

Ball lightning is all in the mind, say Austrian physicists

Thunderstorms' magno-field causes brain to malfunction

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

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. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
prev story

Whitepapers

Driving business with continuous operational intelligence
Introducing an innovative approach offered by ExtraHop for producing continuous operational intelligence.
Why CIOs should rethink endpoint data protection in the age of mobility
Assessing trends in data protection, specifically with respect to mobile devices, BYOD, and remote employees.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
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?
Simplify SSL certificate management across the enterprise
Simple steps to take control of SSL across the enterprise, and recommendations for a management platform for full visibility and single-point of control for these Certificates.