Ball lightning, lyrically known as St. Elmo's Fire, is a phenomenon where electrical storms create a moving, glowing sphere that hangs in the sky. Scientists have created ball lightning in the lab, but had never observed it in nature until now. And it's just as crazy as it looks.
Scientists in the Qinghai region of China were observing a thunderstorm in 2012 using video cameras and a spectrometer, a device that measures light and electromagnetic waves to identify elements. As luck would have it, these instruments recorded a five-meter-wide flash of ball lightning that stayed in the air for about 1.6 seconds.
Back in the lab, the researchers analyzed the spectrometer readings to find large indicators of silicon, iron and calcium, elements present in the soil of the region. The theory is, when lightning strikes the ground, it blasts a cloud of highly-energized soil nanoparticles into the air. As those energized particles calm down, they emit light. Eerie, otherworldly light. Cool! [American Physics Society via Medium]
Image: Flickr / StormWlf