Tesla’s Thoughts on Ball
Tesla became familiar with the destructive characteristics of
fireballs in his experiments at Colorado Springs in 1899. He
produced them quite by accident and saw them, more than once,
explode and shatter his tall mast and also destroy apparatus within
his laboratory. The destructive action accompanying the
disintegration of a fireball, he declared, takes place with
He studied the process by which they were produced, not because he
wanted to produce them but in order to eliminate the conditions in
which they were created. It is not pleasant, he related, to have
fireballs explode in your vicinity for they will destroy anything
they come in contact with.
At Colorado Springs..... I never saw fireballs, but as a
compensation for my disappointment I succeeded later in determining
the mode of their formation and producing them artificially.
Parasitic oscillations, or circuits, within the main circuit were a
source of danger from this cause [of ball lightning]. Points of
resistance in the main circuit could result in minor oscillating
circuits between terminals or between two points of resistance and
these minor circuits would have a very much higher period of
oscillation than the main circuit and could be set into oscillation
by the main current of lower frequency.
Even when the principle oscillating circuit was adjusted for the
greatest efficiency of operation by the diminution of all sources of
losses, the fireballs continued to occur, but these were due to
stray high frequency charges from random earth currents.
From theses experiences it became apparent that the fire balls
resulted from the interaction of two frequencies, a stray higher
frequency wave imposed on the lower frequency free oscillation of
the main circuit.
As the free oscillation of the circuit builds up from the zero point
to the quarter wave length node it passes through various rates of
change. In a current of shorter wavelength the rates of change will
be steeper. When the two currents react on each other the resultant
complex will contain a wave in which there is an extremely steep
rate of change, and for the briefest instant currents may move at a
tremendous rate, at the rate of millions of horsepower.
This condition acts as a trigger which may cause the total energy of
the powerful longer wave to be discharged in an infinitesimally small
interval of time and at a proportionately tremendously great rate of
energy movement which cannot confine itself to the metal circuit and
is released into surrounding space with inconceivable violence.
It is but a step, from learning how a high frequency current can
explosively discharge a lower frequency current, to using the
principle to design a system in which these explosions can be
produced by intent.
The following process appears a possible one but no evidence is
available that it is the one Tesla evolved: An oscillator, such as
he used to send power wirelessly around the earth at Colorado
Springs, is set in operation at a frequency to which a given warship
is resonant. The complex structure of a ship would provide a great
number of spots in which electrical oscillations will be set up of a
much higher frequency than those coursing through the ship as a
These parasite currents will react on the main current
causing the production of fireballs which by their explosions will
destroy the ship, even more effectively than the explosion of the
magazine which would also take place. A second oscillator may be
used to transmit the shorter wavelength current.
In the highly resonant transformer secondary comprising the
magnifying transmitter, the entire energy accumulated in the excited
circuit, instead of requiring a quarter period for transformation
from static to kinetic, could spend itself in less time, at hundreds
of thousands of horsepower. Thus for example, producing artificial
fireballs by suddenly causing the impressed oscillations to be more
rapid than free ones of the secondary. This shifted the point of
maximum electrical pressure below the elevated terminal capacity and
a ball of fire would leap great distances.
...if the points of maximum pressure should be shifted below the
terminal, along the coil, a ball of fire might break out and destroy
the support or anything else in the way. For the better appreciation
of the nature of this danger it should be stated, that the
destructive action may take place with inconceivable violence. This
will cease to be surprising when it is borne in mind, that the entire
energy accumulated in the excited circuit, instead of requiring, as
under normal working conditions, one quarter of the period or more
for its transformation from static to kinetic form, may spend itself
in an incomparably smaller interval of time, at the rate of many
millions of horsepower.
The accident is apt to occur when, the
transmitting circuit is being strongly excited, the impressed
oscillations upon it are caused, in any manner more or less sudden,
to be more rapid than the free oscillations. [also thought that
stray high frequency earth currents were also interacting with lower
frequency transmitter currents]
When the action is very energetic, owing to the power of the
streamer and other causes, the luminous portion of the same becomes
a veritable fireball. This observation which, to my greatest
astonishment, I have frequently observed in experiments with this
apparatus, shows now clearly how fireballs are produced in lightning
discharges and their nature is now quite plain.
With the present experiences I am satisfied that the phenomenon of
the fireball is produced by the sudden heating. to high
incandescence, of a mass of air or other gas as the case may be, by
the passage of a powerful discharge. There are many ways or less
plausible in which a mass of air might be thus affected by the spark
discharge, but I hold the following explanation of the mode of
production of the ball as being, most likely of all others which I
have considered, the true one.
When sudden and very powerful
discharges pass through the air, the tremendous expansion of some
portions of the latter and subsequent rapid cooling and condensation
gives rise to the creation of partial vacua in the places of
greatest development of heat. These vacuous spaces, owing to the
properties of the gas, are most likely to assume the shape of hollow
spheres when, upon cooling, the air from all around rushes in to
fill the cavity created by the explosive dilatation and subsequent
Suppose now that this result would have been produced
by one spark or streamer discharge and that now a second discharge,
and possible many more, follows in the path of the first. What will
happen? Before answering the question we must remember that,
contrary to existing popular notions, the currents passing through
the air have the strength of many hundreds and even thousands of
A single powerful streamer, breaking out from a well insulated
terminal, may easily convey a current of several hundred amperes!
No wonder then, that a small mass of air is exploded with an effect
similar to that of a bombshell, as noted in many lightning
But to return now to the explanation of the fireball, let us now
assume that such a powerful streamer or spark discharge, in its
passage through the air, happens to come upon a vacuous sphere or
space formed in the manner described. This space, containing gas
highly rarefied, may be just in the act of contracting, at any rate,
the intense current, passing through the rarefied gas suddenly
raises the same to an extremely high temperature, all the higher as
the mass of the gas is very small.
But although the gas may have
been brought to vivid incandescence, yet its pressure may not be
very great. If, upon the sudden passage of the discharge, the
pressure of the heated air exceeds that of the air around, the
luminous ball or space will expand, but most generally it may not do
For assume, for instance, that the air in the vacuous space was
at one hundredth say, of its normal pressure, which might well be
the case, then, since the pressure in the space would be as the
absolute temperature of the gas within, it would require a
temperature which seems scarcely realizable, to raise the pressure
of the rarefied gas to the normal air pressure. It is therefore
reasonable to expect that, despite the high incandescence of the
rarefied air, the space filled with the same will continue to
contract, and here an important consideration presents itself.
as before explained, the vacuous space was formed, the spark or
streamer passed through the air disruptively, therefore the path was
necessarily very thin, threadlike, and the minute quantity of the
air which served as a conductor for the current was expanded with
explosive violence to many thousand times its original volume.
to the fact, however, that the quantity of mailer (??) through which
the current was conveyed was small, a great facility was offered for
giving off the heat so that the highly expanded gas-owing to its
expansion arid (??) to radiation and convection of heat-cooled
instantly. But how is it when the second discharge and possibly many
subsequent ones pass through the rarefied gas?
These discharges find
the gas already expanded and in a condition to take up much more
energy by reason of the properties it acquires through rarefaction.
Evidently, the energy consumption in any given part of the path of
the streamer or spark discharge is, under otherwise the same
conditions, proportionate to the resistance of that part of the
path; and since, after the gas has once broken down, the resistance
of other parts of the path of the discharge is much smaller than
that including the vacuous space, a comparatively very great energy
consumption must necessarily take place in this portion of the
Here, then, is a mass of gas heated to high
incandescence suddenly but not, as before, in a condition to give up
heat rapidly. It can not cool down rapidly by expansion, as when the
vacuous space was being formed, nor can it give off much heat by
convection. To some extent even radiation is diminished.
contrary, despite the high temperature, it is compelled to
confinement in a limited space which is continuously shrinking
instead of expanding. All these causes cooperate in maintaining, for
a comparatively long period of time, the gas confined in this space
at an elevated temperature, in a state of high incandescence, in the
case under consideration. Thus it is that the phenomenon of the ball
is produced and the same made to persist for a perceptible fraction
or interval of time.
As might be expected, the incandescent mass of
gas in a medium violently agitated, could not possibly remain in the
same place but will be, as a rule, carried, in some direction or
other, by the currents of the air. Upon little reflection, however,
we are led to the conclusion that the ball or incandescent mass, of
whatever shape it be, will always move from the place where an
explosion occurred first, to some place where such an explosion
In fact, all observers concur in the opinion that such a fireball
moves slowly. If we interpret the nature of this wonderful
phenomenon in this manner, we shall find it quite natural that when
such a ball encounters in its course an object, as a piece of
organic matter for instance, it will raise the same to a high
temperature, thus liberating suddenly a great quantity of gas by
evaporating or volatilizing the substance with the result of being
itself dissipated or exploded.
Obviously, also, it may be expected
that the conducting mass of the ball originated as described, and
moving through a highly insulating medium, will be likely to be
highly electrified, which accords with many of the observations
made. A better knowledge of this phenomenon will be obtained by
following up experiments with still more powerful apparatus which is
in a large measure already settled upon and will be constructed as
soon as time and means will permit. There may be a way, however, of
intensifying in this respect, the action of the present machine.
He mentions the splitting of streamers near the floor, splitting and
reuniting, the phenomenon of luminous parts on the streamers (which
he then refers to as sparks), and the breaking up of sparks into
streamers and fireballs. His remarks concerning the genesis of
fireballs are particularly noteworthy.
A fireball is a luminous sphere occurring during a thunderstorm.
Fireballs are usually red, but other colors have also been observed:
yellow, green, white and blue. Their dimensions vary, a mean
diameter being about 25 cm. Unlike ordinary lightning, fireballs
move slowly, almost parallel to the ground. They sometimes stop and
change their direction of motion. They can last for up to 5 seconds.
Their properties vary greatly from case to case, so that it is
believed that there are various types. Tesla mentions phenomena of
this type several times as the result of sparks or streamers
striking wooden objects.
It has been found that to maintain, a lump of plasma in air requires
a power of the electromagnetic field of about 500 W, which is much
less than power which can be produced by an electrical discharge.
However, too little is known about natural electromagnetic waves to
allow any reliable conclusions to be drawn.
Tesla’s hypothesis on the origin and maintenance of fireballs
includes some points
which are also to be found in the most recent theories, but it also
bears the stamp of the
time. For instance, Tesla considers that the initial energy of the
nucleus is not sufficient
to maintain the fireball, but that there must be an external source
Tesla this energy comes from other lightnings passing through the
nucleus, and the
concentration of energy occurs because of the resistance of the
nucleus, i.e. the greater
energy-absorbing capacity of the rarefied gas than the surrounding
gas through which the
FBI’s Freedom of Information Act Web Page..
Look for Tesla in the Alpha Listings...Page 113
US Patent #1,119,732 -
Nikola Tesla, Apparatus for Transmitting Electrical Energy
Colorado Springs Notes, N.Tesla
pages 368-372, 431-432 (purported to have 20 pages worth of ball
"PRODIGAL GENIUS The Life of Nikola Tesla", John J. O’Neill
page 183, and unpublished chapter 34
"Tesla: Man Out of Time", Margaret Cheney
pages 3-4, 281-282
"The New Wizard of the West", Chauncey McGovern, Pearson’s Magazine,
London, May 1899
"LIGHTNING IN HIS HAND", Inez Hunt & W.W. Draper
Back to Contents
Production Of Electrical Fireballs
by Kenneth L. Corum and James
Corum & Associates, Inc. 8551 State
Troute 534 Windsor, Ohio 44099
(Extract from TCBA NEWS, volume 8,
"I have succeeded in determining
the mode of their formation and producing them
[ELECTRICAL WORLD AND
ENGINEER, March 5, 1904]
Although there have been numerous
articles, publications, and seminars on the phenomenon of ball
lightning and fireballs, only a very few have ever reported on the
actual production of fireballs. Yet even fewer of these handful have
ever actually produced fireballs under conditions that, even
remotely, could be considered similar to nature. As with General
Relativity, the number of theoretical publications exceeds the
number of experimental papers by several orders of magnitude.
Our laboratory in Ohio (which is noted
for slow wave helical antenna research) has developed equipment that
will produce electric fireballs that will last after the external
power is removed. We have been able to produce electric fireballs
that will fit the conditions and circumstances that are frequently
seen in nature (i.e., fireballs passing though windows, inside
airplanes, traveling along fences, etc.).
Last summer, during the 3rd
International Tesla Symposium at Colorado Springs, while walking
around Tesla’s Laboratory site and Prospect Lake in nearby Memorial
Park, Leland Anderson made the comment,
"I don’t understand why we
don’t all see fireballs. The way Tesla described them, they just
seemed to bubble from his machine." (See image below).
We had been
discussing the "missing" chapter 34 that Harry Goldman had just
published in TCBA NEWS (Volume 7, #3, 1988 pp. 13-15). Its import
may be gotten form this brief quote attributed to Tesla:
"...it became apparent that the
fireballs resulted form the interaction of two frequencies, a
stray higher frequency wave imposed on the lower frequency
oscillations of the main circuit.... This condition acts as a
trigger which may cause the total energy of the powerful longer
wave to be discharged in a infinitesimally small interval of
time and the proportionately tremendously great rate of energy
movement which cannot confine itself to the metal circuit and is
released into surrounding space with inconceivable violence. It
is but a step, from the learning how a high frequency current
can explosively discharge a lower frequency current, to using
the principle to design a system in which these explosions can
be produced by intent."
It was a puzzle to us.
While flying back
to Cleveland, we continued to compare Chapter 34 with the
photographs in Tesla’s published notes. And then it struck us. We
just weren’t using the circuit configuration which Tesla shows to
us. When we got back, we arranged our apparatus as shown in Figure
Following Tesla’s instructions, we
rewired our apparatus as two synchronously pulsed high power RF
oscillators, the first at a frequency of 67 KHz and the second at
156 KHz (The exact frequencies aren’t critical).
The basis for the apparatus was first
conceived and patented in 1897 by Nikola Tesla. The idea of using
two oscillators in synchronism was also used by Tesla at the turn of
the century in a patented primitive spread spectrum communication
system. The apparatus can be seen in dozens of photographs and
circuit diagrams in
Tesla’s Colorado Springs Notes (referred to as
CSN below). There have been many descriptions and analyses of
The classic being the Oberbeck in 1895.
However, all of these scientific and engineering descriptions fall
short of a true description. It wasn’t until we applied slow wave
transmission line theory and partial coherence to Tesla’s oscillator
that we were able to accurately predict the operation of the
oscillator and the subsequent production of fireballs. The apparatus
consists primarily of two one-quarter wavelength, slow wave helical
resonators above a conducting ground plane. Both of the resonators
were magnetically coupled by a common link to a spark gap
oscillator, of high peak power (approximately 70 KW), operating at a
frequency of 67 KHz.
The actual average power being delivered
to the high voltage electrode was on the order of 3.2 KW (2.4
megavolts RF). Tesla, of course, was running about 100 items the
power which we could produce with our rather modest equipment.
The spark gap oscillator was set to 800 pulses per second
and the duration was 100 microseconds. The low frequency coil had a
coherence time of 72 microseconds.
This means that the induced incoherent
oscillations on the resonator took 72 microseconds to build up a
standing wave (or interference pattern), and show up as a high
voltage on the top end of the resonator: Vmax = S V min (where S is
the VSWR) [The theory is developed in great detail in References
5,6,7. Reference 8 even provides a computer assisted tutorial.]
high frequency coil had a coherence time of 30 microseconds.
1. Using the high frequency
coil to arc to the low frequency coil, the low frequency coil
would then release its energy rapidly, in a burst. The burst of
energy released manifests itself in the shape of a ball or
"bubble." Due to the faster voltage rise on the high frequency
coil and the subsequent short duration arc to the low frequency
coil, the low frequency now sees a a low impedance where it
would normally see a high impedance. the energy trapped in the
coil when the oscillator was on must now be dissipated very
quickly at this lower impedance point, hence the burst.
CSN page 114, bottom paragraph.
Tesla’s use of lumped circuit Q is somewhat misleading, but his
physics is substantially correct. Circuit 4 on page 115 and the
one on the top of page 174 are virtually the same as Figure 1.)
2. A second method of
fireball production includes the use of microscopic vaporized
metal or carbon particles. We used the low frequency coil alone
and deposited a thin film of carbon particles on the high
voltage electrode. When the voltage began to rise on the end of
the resonator, streamers began to form on the electrode. The
current passing through the carbon film tended to rapidly heat
the carbon particles.
This dissipation of power also tends
to quickly reduce the impedance and subsequently release all the
power rapidly into this heated micron size "resistor." The same
results may be gotten by using "the tip of rubber covered cable
or sire #10" to "facilitate the pumping of the spark." (CSN
173-174) Old fashioned rubber is loaded with soot.
Experimentally, we have determined the
ideal set of conditions for producing electric fireballs. They are:
1. Generate a lot of
carbon or vaporized metal particles in a small region of
2. Create large electric
fields in the same vicinity (on the order of 1 to 2 MV/m).
3. Rapidly elevate the
temperature of the particles.
Video tape easily documents the results
of meeting these three conditions. From this, fireball lifetimes are
deduced to be 1 to 2 seconds and dimensions are 1 to 3 centimeters
in diameter. Also, these are in agreement with Tesla’s observations
For example, in one place he attributes
fireballs to the presence of resistively heated material in the air.
page 333) This mechanism is consistent with Zaitsev’s
relatively recent theory in which the resistive heating of particles
creates a glowing region or fire ball:
"the current of the preleader
stages of the discharge from the seed [cloud of fine particles
(metal, soot, or ash)] flowing through the structure drives it to
thermal explosion." (ref. 1)
The fire balls disappear either when
the particles burn up or when a thermal explosion occurs. we have
Using these methods for producing the
fireballs, we then set about creating conditions as described by
observers of ball lightning. By having the streamers, produced by
the two resonators operating together, strike a windowpane
surrounded by a wooden frame, we produced conditions normally found
in nature. (see refs 2 &3)
What was observed by the operator of our
apparatus was astounding!
"the streamers went from the high voltage
terminal and struck the windowpane. There were many fire balls
present between the electrode and the window. But where the streamers hit the glass,
there were many fireballs emanating from the opposite side of the
glass. The fireballs would then travel slowly horizontally 12 inches
or so and flare up. Some would travel out a bit farther and
What was captured on video tape can be seen in the
sequence of photos 1, 2, and 3. These results are reproducible on
demand. Try it! Powell and Finkelstein have described a mechanism
for how fire balls may appear to pass through a glass window intact.
"initially electric lines of force
pass freely through glass. Positive ions from the ball follow
force lines and pile up on one side of the glass while electrons
from the room accumulate on the other. When the ball approaches,
the glass is heated or broken down enough to become slightly
conducting. It then becomes an electrode, and a ball is formed
inside the room; the ball then floats away from the window."
The actual physics may be somewhat
different, but the sequence of photographs 1, 2, and 3 support the
general idea. The relative ease of electric fireball generation by
high voltage discharges in the presence of carbon films, smoke, ash,
and dust is consistent with its frequent natural observation in and
around chimneys, where carbon is deposited in great profusion.
[Readers familiar with Michael
Faraday’s famous Christmas Lecture, "The Chemical history of a
Candle" - "There is not a law under which any part of this
universe is governed which does not come into play." -, will
recall his glowing remarks about the presence of smoke and solid
carbon particles in a brilliant candle flame. They give us
glorious colors and beautiful light.
Imagine what would have resulted if
Faraday and Tesla had met! If you can’t get the 1 or 2 MV that
Zaitsev requires as necessary and which we observed under
condition 2 above, you can place a wire wrapped plumber’s candle
on the side of your small Tesla coil and get an idea of what can
be seen on a larger machine.
Again, video taping the experiment,
adjusting the power levels and reviewing the tape, frame by
frame, will be quite a revealing experience. Faraday noted that
if you put a strainer or a glass tube down in a candle flame,
you will see an incredible amount of soot particles bubbling up.
This is what gives candle flame is color and luminosity.]
We were able to produce other
interesting features. Often we had pulsating fireballs. These would
appear and then shrink. When they were hit by streamers, they would
grow in size then shrink again.
This would occur a number of times and
then they would fade away. Another feature was that some had the
appearance of a doughnut; bright circles with darkened centers.
Others appeared to the observer as white, red, green, yellow,
blue-white, and purple. See photo 4. Many other color photographs
and a historical discussion are given in Reference 9.
We believe the phenomenon that manifests
itself when the coherence time is cut short could indeed be the same
phenomenon that occurs in nature. Instead of having a short helical
resonator being the transmission line, the natural lightning stroke
could be a full quarter-wave transmission line with its own
coherence time shortened by small streamers at one end of the
According to lightning specialists, most
of these small streamers occur at the top end of the lightning
stroke. This would account for the infrequency of ball lightning on
the ground side of the stroke. Dust, soot, ashes, and other
pollutants in the air near lightning strikes would, or course,
produce similar results. Our conclusion is that these fireballs are
primarily RF in origin, and not nuclear phenomena.
Consistent with Tesla’s observations,
they can be produced either by high current dump into hot air,
satisfied that the phenomenon of the fireball is produced by the
sudden heating, to a high incandescence of a mass of air or other
gas as the case may be, by the passage of a powerful discharge."
...or by the presence of resistively heated material
["I attribute them (fire balls) to the presence of
material in the air at that particular spot which is of such nature,
that when heated, it increases the luminosity."
The latter would account for the "engine
room" fire balls' produced by high current switches and relays.
Finkelstein and Rubenstein once made a remarkable statement:
this model is appropriate, then ball lightning has no relevance to
controlled-fusion plasma research." (Ref. 4)
If should now be
apparent that this position can be experimentally supported. In our
literature research on the topic over the past 26 years, we have
read through hundreds of technical articles, papers, reports, and
books. It would be impossible to cite and discuss all of them in
But we believe that Tesla’s is the only
apparatus that has been developed that can address and reproduce on
demand the many descriptions of ball lightning in nature. Now a host
of experimenters may carry out fire ball generation and
experimentation under their own controlled conditions. Best of all,
the required apparatus is not only inexpensive, it is readily
available in thousands of homes and existing laboratories around the
What would have transpired if Faraday
and Tesla had met? Why, high power RF oscillators and candle
chemistry would have combined to reign brilliant electric fireballs
- of course!
1. "New theory of ball lightning" by
A.V Zaitsev, Soviet Physics-Technical Physics, Vol. 17, #1,
July, 1972, pp. 173-175.
2. Ball lightning and Bead
Lightning, by J.D. Barry, Plenum Press, 1980, pp 114-115.
3. "Ball lightning," by JR Powell
and D. Finkelstein, American Scientist, Vol. 58, 1970, pp
262-280, See page 279.
4. ""Ball Lightning," by D.
Finkelstein and J. Rubenstein, Physical Review, Vol 135, #2A,
July 20, 1964, pp A390-A396.
5. "A Technical Analysis of the
Extra Coil as a Slow Wave Helical Resonator," with Kenneth L.
Corum, Proceedings of the 2nd International Tesla Symposium,
Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1986, chapter 2, pp 1-24.
6. "The Application of Transmission
Line Resonators to High Voltage RF Power Processing: History,
Analysis, and Experiment.
7. Vacuum Tube Tesla Coils, by J.F.
Corum and K.L. Corum, Published by Corum & Associates, Inc.,
1988, [100 page text, $55]
8. TCTUTOR - A personal Computer
Analysis of Spark Gap Tesla Coils, BY J.F. Corum, D.J. Edwards,
and L.L. Corum, Published by Corum & Associates, Inc., 1988,
[110 page text & disk, $75]
9. Fire Balls - A Collection of
Laboratory Experiment Photographs, (text plus 36 photographs and
commentary), by K.L. Corum, J.D. Edwards, and J.F. Corum,
Published by Corum & Associates, Inc., 1988, [50 pages, $55].
10. The Chemical History of a
Candle, by Michael Faraday, (last given in 1860), transcribed by
Sir William Crookes, Edited by W.R. Fielding, E.P. Dutton & Co.,
1920, pp. 52-58
Colorado Springs Notes, by Nikola Tesla, edited by Aleksander Marincic, Nolit, Beograd,
Yugoslavia, 1978, pp.111, 330-333, 368-370, 372, 379-384,
431-433, (CSN above) By Y.C. Shimatsu
Esoteric Info on
Back to Contents
In A Tornado Vortex
[Source: Nando News / By Philip Cohen - May 26 1999]
The last place most people would try to start a fire is inside a
tornado. But two researchers who have pulled off a similar trick in
a lab in New Zealand say their experiment may explain enigmatic
weather phenomena such as ball lightning.
At first glance, tornadoes don’t appear fire-friendly. Even at the
calm centre of the whirlwind, there is enough of an updraft to make
any flame tenuous, and the fast winds at its edge would blow out any
Yet fireballs have been reported in some tornadoes, such as the
twister that struck Dorset in Britain in 1989. Vortices have also
been associated with floating spheres of ball lightning, which
sometimes disappear with a loud explosion, suggesting they, too,
contain combustible material.
So John Abrahamson, a chemical engineer at Canterbury University in
Christ-church, was intrigued when his former student Peter Coleman
proposed trying to create a fireball in a mini tornado. They
reckoned one might form in the vortex breakdown region, where air
moves relatively slowly.
"If it was coloured, you’d see this
doughnut of air," says Abrahamson.
Intriguingly, the vortex breakdown region is used in "vortex
burners", in which a flame burns in a closed, horizontal cylinder. A
horizontal vortex mixes and contains hot gases so that the fuel
burns efficiently. But it was unclear if the combustion would be
stable in a free-standing, vertical vortex.
To find out, Abrahamson and Coleman built a circular chamber about a
meter wide. Slats at the base allowed air to enter at various angles
and an extraction fan pulled air upwards from above. This created a
vortex 10 centimeters wide. Liquefied petroleum gas was introduced
into the breakdown region through a pipe and was ignited with a
The vortex produced a stable fireball if the air entered at an angle
of 66 degrees. Whether the fuel pipe was above, below or to the side
of the vortex breakdown region, the fuel was drawn into the doughnut
of air and burnt as a sphere.
Abrahamson concludes that if a natural vortex swept up fuel from the
ground, and if something like a lightning strike or power line
ignited it, this could form a stable fireball. His experiment will
be described next month at a meeting of the American Geophysical
Union in Boston.
"There are many theories about ball lightning, but not many of them
can be studied so thoroughly in a lab as this one," notes Stanley
Singer, president of the International Committee on Ball Lightning
in Pasadena, California.
However, he adds that some reports suggest
ball lightning can pass through solid objects--something that is
hard to reconcile with a combustion theory.
Abrahamson points out that many of those reports have been called
into question. Even if his experiment fails to explain
meteorological mysteries, he believes it may find uses in industry.
"I don’t think anyone has ever created a vortex to control an open
flame before. It could be useful."
The experiment could even explain
some UFOs, adds Coleman.
"Some pictures of supposed UFOs I’ve seen
look like classic fireballs."
Back to Contents
Fighters??? Ball Lightning???
One theory may have had confirmation in 1943, when Allied bombers
over Germany started spotting strange lights that would approach and
track them. No larger than a basketball, the lights sometimes
appeared to interfere with the aircraft’s electrical system but were
otherwise harmless. Some have tried to claim that these lights,
nicknamed “foo fighters”, were some form of Nazi secret weapon.
However, the descriptions of foo fighters match
ball lightning very
The timing is also significant, as they seem to have started
appearing when the English/Germans deployed radar, and it is quite
likely that they were caused by the interaction between German
systems, or the combination of the German radar and the airborne H2S
radars carried by allied aircraft.
General Electric E821 glass cavity magnetron used in England which
worked on 10cm (~3GHz) wavelength and became available for aircraft
interception. The magnetron became the heart of the H2S radar which
was installed in British bombers.
The Freya FuMG 39G was the first German operational early warning
radar defense system in 1938, along the German border.
operated on a 1.8-2.0 meter wave length (180-200 cm). For gun
laying, a more accurate radar with a more concentrated beam, than
the Freya was developed by Telefunken. This radar, called the
Wuerzburg FuMG 39 operated on 50cm (600MHz) wave length. A rotating
dipole antenna and a pulsed radar was used. By the end of the war,
over 5,000 units of this and upgraded models (Wuerzburg D) had been
in deployed in Europe. The Wuerzburg-D (FuMG 39 T/D) was one of the
most advanced radar units to be used during WWII.
Initial German airbore radar was the “Lichtenstein B/C” operated on
50cm (600MHz) wave length, and fitted on the Luftwaffe’s primary
night-fighter, the Messerschmitt Me-110 twin-engine fighter. Then
Germany fitted newer radar to their night fighters which were also
directed to the bomber formations by ground radar. The “Lichtenstein
SN2” with a band of 2 meters (200cm, ~180MHz) mounted on the Ju-88G
England/Allies used 10cm radar, Germany/Axis used 50cm and 200cm
wavelengths... Aircraft resonance from ground radar creating
localized standing waves/ionization, static charges building up on
aircraft and propeller surfaces causing high voltage corona brush
discharges, fuel fumes and carbon exhaust byproducts from engines,
metal and paint ions from aircraft skin, interference and ionization
from onboard airborne radar transmitters causing intense energy
discharge in very short time periods causing plasma ball formations
to occur in standing wave areas around aircraft.
Plasma ball motion
could be due to standing wave nodes dynamically moving around aircraft
from flight profile and formation position changes, in relation to
ground radar and other aircraft...
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