A ball lightning video from China offers the first evidence that the elusive glowing orbs form from vaporized dirt.
Stories about the ball lightning have been spread around for centuries but never have scientists been able to observe and record the natural phenomenon.
That is, until 2012, when Ping Yuan and his colleagues at Northwestern Normal University in Lanzhou, China were watching a thunderstorm in Qinghai with video cameras.
They ended up recording a ball lightning by accident.
The main elements found in the ball lightning are the same as those in soil–silicon, iron, and calcium, they discovered with a spectograph.
“I think that this is a unique observation that is probably of ball lightning, or one type of ball lightning,” lightning specialist Martin Uman of the University of Florida in Gainesville told the American Physical Society, where the research was published. “There have been many research programs that routinely video or photograph natural and triggered lightning,” he says, “but none, as far as I am aware, has stumbled on a ball lightning.”
“We are planning to simulate the observational conditions and reproduce it in the laboratory,” added Yuan.