ball lightning

An exploration of the workings of ball lightning.

Credit - Ltikorea CC-BY-SA

Credit – Ltikorea CC-BY-SA

Leaving out the home, contact, downloads and welcome pages, these posts are the best of 2014 by visit.

14. Near Death Experience – Part Three
What happened to parts One and Two? How does the third one outrank the others?

13. Flesch Reading Ease
This surprises me. Why is there so much interest in a method for rating how easy it is to read text?

12. Yawning
Of things our bodies do, including Synesthesia, Smell (1, 2 & 3), Earworms and Handedness, yawning is the most popular.

11. Ball Lightning – Part Three
Again part three is first.

10. Ball Lightning
And it appears readers jumped right over Part Two to read these.

9. BitTorrent Bundles
Good. I’m glad people are interested in my BitTorrent Bundle. No idea how this fits in with the rest, though.

8. Gecko Feet
I’m glad to see this. I have a soft spot for these little guys.

7. Altocumulus Castellanus
This is the only entry from the Cloud of the Day series. Maybe because it sounds so grand?

6. Collective Nouns
I like this series. It’s a lot of fun. Even Part Two.

5. Aquatic Ape – The Theory Evolves
The Bipedal series did well, taking three of the top five spots.

4. Whispering Galleries
This is no surprise. There’s something intrinsically interesting about whispering galleries.

3. Spanking for Love
This is no surprise either. Humans, eh?

2. Bipedal – The Aquatic Ape Theory
The Aquatic Ape is popular, but the Savanna Ape is even more so.

1. Bipedal – The Savanna Theory
This post got more than twice the number of views of the two Aquatic Ape posts combined.

That’s what you were looking at in 2014. Thank you for your interest, and thank you for keeping it interesting for me. Without you, it could be a pretty bleak job maintaining Green Comet’s home on the Internet. You encourage me to carry on, both with this site and with the sequel to the novel, which should be ready in the middle of 2015.

That was the best of 2014. See you in the new year.



Cloud of the Day – Saint Elmo’s Fire

Image credit - Wikimedia

Image credit – Wikimedia

Saint Elmo’s fire is sometimes confused with ball lightning, but the two phenomena are quite different. While Saint Elmo’s fire is a well-understood and predictable electrical event, ball lightning is unpredictable and not yet fully understood. Saint Elmo’s fire is always associated with solid objects, such as ship masts and airplane wings, while ball lightning’s main identifying feature is its independence.

Image credit - John Kain

Image credit – John Kain

Saint Elmo’s fire forms when there is a strong electrical field around the object (mast or wing, eg) which causes air molecules to become ionized, creating a visible plasma. It’s a relatively mild cousin of lightning. In a mechanism similar to aurora, the ionized nitrogen and oxygen molecules fluoresce with blue or violet light.

Image credit - Wesley Wong

Image credit – Wesley Wong

Since Saint Elmo’s fire is a remarkable phenomenon it naturally has its attendant superstitions, most notably among sailors, who were most at risk during strong electrical storms. Some of them thought it was a bad omen, while others thought it was a sign that their saint (Elmo) was watching over them. We humans tend to think that these things are about us.

Saint Elmo’s fire is not dangerous. It won’t set things on fire and it won’t kill you if it touches you. If you’re lucky enough to see it, just enjoy it, although you should take the normal precautions for the associated thunderstorm.


It’s been awhile since I made a regular post, what with the release of the reading and all the excitement around that. It’s been fun and thoroughly enjoyable, but I really need to post the last article in the series on ball lightning.

The Wikipedia entry on it says, “. . . the true nature of ball lightning is unknown.” Against that disappointment it has a list of accounts of it, so you might find it interesting anyway.

Physicsworld has several articles on the phenomenon. The two most recent concentrate on silicon nanoparticles kicked out of the soil by a lightning strike, and transcranial magnetic stimulation of the visual cortex. has a story about scientists who have generated plasma clouds in the laboratory which resemble ball lightning.

Finally, reports on a theory proposed this year that focused on the ball lightning that occurs in enclosed spaces, such as houses and airplanes. Significantly, this theory, supported by a mathematical solution, accounts for the way ball lightning has been reported to pass through glass. The nanoparticle and plasma hypotheses, for instance, do not accommodate passing through such a physical barrier.

Ball lightning is still mysterious, and the few people who get to witness it still find it to be a transcendent, if sometimes fatal, experience. But thanks to science, we’re also getting closer to understanding it.

See also parts one and two.


By the vocal demand of loyal readers, we will explore ball lightning in more detail. The original article was quite general.

Ball lightning is usually reported to occur during thunderstorms, most often associated with a real lightning discharge. However, many of the reports have it appearing during fine weather with no storms around. This raises many possibilities, such as: there is more than one kind, or they are different phenomena, or people are mistaken or lying. Continue Reading

Ball lightning is still a mystery. One thing it certainly is not is evidence of paranormal activity. But what it is is not as certain.

Ball lightning is a rarely observed event. Fewer than five percent of people will see it even once in their lifetime. Those who do see it are among the privileged few, unless it kills them, which happens even more rarely. Photographs are nearly non-existent, given the low likelihood of an observer having a camera at the time and the briefness of the encounter. Continue Reading