Bizarre Electrical Phenomena
tension wires can glow with an electrical corona.
In September 1949 William B. Sanborn was standing
in a marsh in Yellowstone National Park when he saw a "hazy
patch of blue light" sweep toward him at several feet per second.
The patch was one-hundred and fifty feet wide and almost a thousand
feet long. As it reached him Sanborn noticed a drop in temperature
and the odor of ozone. Keeping low to the ground the cloud flowed
around him as well as other obstacles enveloping them in a strange
halo of pulsating light. Sanborn could feel his scalp tingle,
and felt the snapping of tiny sparks as he brushed his hair
with his hand, but obtained no shock from touching any object
on the ground or outside his car.
Exactly what Mr. Sanborn experienced is unknown,
however it does resemble in it's appearance a phenomenon known
as "Saint Elmo's Fire." Saint Elmo's Fire is a glowing electrical
halo that can envelope the mast of ships, airplane wings and
church steeples during stormy weather. As air masses of different
temperatures move against each other the friction can create
static electrical charges in air. The visible discharge occurs
when the air comes near the conducting surfaces of some projecting
object like a flag pole. It seems unlikely air friction caused
by stormy weather is responsible for the Sanborn incident, however,
earthquakes have been known to generate electrical phenomena
and Yellowstone is a geologically active region.
During the earthquake on the Izu Peninsula in
Japan on November 26th, 1930, "fireballs" and "auroral steamers"
appeared. No explanation for these are known, however, they
may be the result of friction as rock moved against rock during
The "fireballs" described during the quake sound
very similar to "spook lights" observed
around the world, though these do not necessarily appear during
tremors. Many scientists do believe these lights are electrical
in nature, though exactly what they are, and how they get created,
are still subjects of speculation.
Glowing lights can also appear on high tension
wires. These "corona" are also the result of static electrical
charges building up on the towers and the lines. They may account
for many UFO sightings that appear in the vicinity of power
most bizarre of all electrical effects is ball lightning. Regular
lightning strikes when a thunderstorm cloud becomes negatively
charged at the base and positively charged at the top. Why this
occurs is not fully understood. When the charges become high
enough a giant spark, the lightning bolt, occurs between the
negative and positive areas to release the build up. Though
about half of the lightning strikes occur between the top and
bottom of the cloud, strikes also occur to the ground below
when it becomes positively charged. The voltage potential between
the cloud and ground is at least 10,000 volts (compared with
110 volts in house wiring) and the bolt superheats the surrounding
air making it glow and causing a shock wave heard as thunder.
Ball lightning is a rare effect in which a glowing,
drifting bubble of light, typically some eight inches in diameter,
appears. On the very rare occasions it is seen, it often, though
not always, follows a regular lightning strike. The very existence
of ball lightning has for some years been controversial. Many
scientists contended that the glowing ball was merely the after-image
seen by the witness after a regular lightning strike. (An after-image
is the spot you see in your eye after watching a bright light
like a camera flash). More and more scientists are beginning
to accept the existence of ball lightning as a true electrical
phenomenon. In fact, scientists at the Edinburgh University
Department of Meteorology had their own brush with ball lightning
when one morning, after a storm, they arrived at their offices
and found a two and one half inch round hole, with smooth edges,
in the window. Since the glass was fused, it is believed it
was melted away by the passage of ball lightning.
Ball lightning when seen can be terrifying. In
August of 1966 in Crail, Scotland, Mrs. Kitty Cox was out walking
her dogs when she heard a tremendous clap of thunder followed
by screaming. She saw children running as a luminous orange
ball came hissing toward her. "My dogs panicked," she recalls,
"and I watched it as it went past very quickly, hissing and
whirring, and went right across into the sea."
One of the best observations of the phenomena
occurred when Professor R. C. Jenninson of the Electronics Laboratories
at the University of Kent was flying in an Eastern Airlines
Jet from New York to Washington in March of 1963. The plane
was caught in a thunderstorm and struck by regular lightning.
A few seconds later a glowing sphere emerged from the pilots
cabin and floated down the aisle. The ball, which was also seen
by a stewardess, continued down the aisle and disappeared near
the rear lavatory.
Ball lightning lasts only a couple of seconds,
or up to a minute, then it disappears by either exploding or
dissipating. Exactly what it is is still unknown, but some scientists
believe it is a sphere of plasma. Plasma is the fourth state
of matter besides, liquid, solid and gas. It is hot, electrically
charged and fluid-like. While it exists in abundance in the
universe inside stars it is usually not found on Earth except
at the heart of a nuclear explosion. How it might exist as a
free-floating bubble under normal conditions is unknown.
An artificial version of ball lightning has been
reported on submarines that use huge batteries to operate their
engines. Improper connection of the battery causes an electrical
discharge that sometimes reportedly spawns glowing, hot balls.
Professor James Tuck, of Los Alamos Laboratories, heard about
this and attempted to duplicate with effect using a submarine
battery stored on campus. Most of his tests produced nothing
resembling ball lightning, but in a final experiment before
the lab was disassembled Tuck introduced a low concentration
of methane around the area of the discharge. The result was
an unexpectedly large explosion and the end of the experiments.
Later, film from movie cameras operating during that last test
showed something Tuck hadn't seen at the time: a four inch round
with Static Electricity
More Links about Ball Lightning from
photo of ball lightning.
Copyright Lee Krystek 1996.
All Rights Reserved.