Feeds

Australian boffins have a ball with lightning maths

St Elmo will spin in his grave

High performance access to file storage

Scientists at Australia’s CSIRO have put forward a mathematical model which they believe could help explain the origin of ball lightning.

While people have observed ball lightning for centuries – at least – explaining it has been so troublesome that it’s attracted a variety of strange hypotheses – all the way to microwave radiation, dark matter, antimatter or mini-black holes.

It's even been dismissed as a trick played on the brain.

One common suggestion is that something – such as silicon particles – is burning, but as CSIRO scientist and lead author of the paper John Lowke explains, it’s an idea that has problems.

“If something is burning, the gas is heating.” Since a hot gas rises, the ball lightning should rise, he says – but in general, that doesn’t fit what people who have seen the phenomenon report.

In a paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres (abstract), Lowke and his team of scientists from CSIRO and the ANU offer a simpler idea: ball lightning ions formed in a thunderstorm, but baulked by an insulator like glass.

This would also help explain reports that ball lightning can “travel through glass”, as Lowke explains in an audio snippet at the CSIRO Website.

“Our explanation in the paper is that [ball lightning] is due to ions piling up on the outside of the window,” he says. Since windows are generally insulators, “the ions pile up to such an extent that they cause an electric field inside the window, which in exceptional circumstances can be sufficient to start a discharge.”

Lowke hopes that the model CSIRO offers in the paper will provide the basis of an experimental test. “A crucial proof of any theory of ball lightning would be if the theory could be used to make ball lightning,” he says.

That would be good news for anyone who thinks they’ve seen ball lightning but hasn’t reported it because, Lowke says, “they are afraid that they will be regarded as being nuts.” ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Fancy joining Reg hack on quid-a-day challenge?
Recruiting now for charity starvation diet
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.