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Volume 6, Pages 254-278
Review Article

The Riddle of Ball Lightning: A Review

1Departamento de Física Aplicada, ETSI Aeronáuticos, Universidad Politécnica, 28040, Madrid, Spain
2Departamento de Física Aplicada, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, 28933 Móstoles, Spain
3Departamento de Física Aplicada III, Universidad Complutense, 28040 Madrid, Spain

Received 13 December 2005; Accepted 6 February 2006

Academic Editor: Manuel Elices

Copyright © 2006 José Donoso et al.


One of the most intriguing and enduring scientific challenges is to find an explanation for ball lightning, the shining fireballs that sometimes appear near lightning strokes. Although many theoretical ideas have been proposed and much experimental work has been performed, there is not yet an accepted explanation of their amazing properties. They are surprisingly stable, lasting up to 10 s, even minutes in some rare cases. By night, their appearance can be spectacular, but their brilliance is just similar to that of a home electric bulb. Most of the time, their motion is smooth and horizontal, but it can also be erratic and chaotic; they can penetrate indoors through window panes. We review here some of the most discussed approaches, including both theoretical models to find an explanation as well as experimental efforts to reproduce them in the laboratory. We distinguish between chemical and physical models, depending on whether their stability is mainly based on their chemical composition or on purely physical phenomena involving electromagnetic fields and plasmas.