“Ball Lightning” Is Real and It’s Deadly

Instances of ball lightning — glowing, electric orbs in the sky — have captivated and mystified us for centuries. The bizarre phenomenon, also known as globe lightning, usually appears during thunderstorms as a floating sphere that can range in color from blue to orange to yellow, disappearing within a few seconds. It's sometimes accompanied by a hissing sound and an acrid odor. One of the first recorded sightings of ball lightning occurred in 1638, when a "great ball of fire" came through the window of an English church. That and other early accounts suggest that ball lightning can be deadly. Ball lightning results from a ground strike that creates a reaction between oxygen and vaporized elements from the soil. This ionized air, or plasma, is the same condition that enables St. Elmo's Fire — the stationary glow that's sometimes confused with ball lightning. Aiming to understand how ball lightning happens, scientists have tried to recreate it, but despite all their experiments, ball lightning refuses to be pinned down and scientists admit they have much to learn about the mysterious phenomenon.