Sunday, April 20, 2014

Science, Skeptics & UFOs - the ball lightning connection

Do yourself a favour if you are at all interested in the serious scientific study of UFOs. Get a copy of Dr. Tim Pennington's book “Science, Skeptics and UFOS: A Reluctant Scientist Explores the World of UFOs”. 

Check out my earlier posts on it. He had me re-contemplating my brush with "ball lightning" as he and I seemed to have that in common along with both being into UFOs & science, being chemists ("Its all about the chemistry"), and we were both caught up as witnesses and participants of intense localised UFO flaps peaking in 1973 (his in the Mississippi and mine around Tyringham, near Dorrigo, in OZ). Here is my take on the ball lightning connection lifted out of my up coming OZ Files column in the online magazine UFO Truth:

Dr. Pennington witnessed from a distance of about 90 feet ball lightning in March 2005 – a blue-green transparent outer sphere about the size of a beach ball, with white inner “spokes” which seemed almost too bright to look at. It came drifting down “from the sky with no thunder or lightning to be heard or seen.” It dropped steadily to the ground from about 40 feet in about 6 to 8 seconds, leaving no mark on the ground.

Tim Pennington liked the explanatory model of Tore Wessel-Berg’s atmospheric ball lightning, but he highlights that there are probably 2 or 3 separate phenomena grouped under ball lightning. Dr. Pennington writes, “The glowing balls of energy that have been seen in a few instances travelling along electric power lines, actually appearing to be in contact with the power lines, is probably not the same phenomena as atmospheric ball-lightning. I believe these power-line phenomena usually only exist in contact with the power line and do not usually float away from it. In any event, it is very doubtful that true ball-lightning can come from power lines.”

I’m inclined to agree, but my own experience suggests that the answer might be more messy and complicated than current models. I have always felt that keeping a eye on the natural phenomena data and literature is a useful calibration tool for the UFO experience. Also many cases of a natural origin often find their way to UFO researchers. That dynamic makes the UFO research field a very useful compliment to research into other anomalies that already engage with science. Yet another reason for scientists to engage with UFO research.

My own experience with ball lightning occurred in about late 1973 or early 1974. The uncertainty about the date I owe to incorrectly thinking at the time that the nature of ball lightning was relatively well understood. I know I immediately thought what I saw was natural and most likely ball lightning.

It was already lightly raining and I was riding a motorbike at speed trying to make it to the safety of Armidale, which I was just approaching from the Grafton Road direction.

It was late afternoon and the approaching intense storm front seemed pretty intense and laden with intermittent lightning. So it was not something I wanted to be caught in. I could smell ozone in the area. In the corner of my eye, behind me to the left I noticed the approach of something very bright. I made it out to be a basket ball size ball of intense light, first seen seemingly rolling along power lines, then it seemed to be bouncing along the lines, until it seemed to collide with the cross beam of a power pole.

At that point things happened very quickly so while extremely vivid in my recollections I can only describe what I thought I saw play out. I was kind of preoccupied with self-preservation at this point. I noticed arcing between the handlebars of the motorbike. With the apparent contact of the ball with the power pole, it seemed to descend quickly down the pole in a tight spiral, then seemed to leave the pole, at about half to two thirds of the way down in my general direction. It seemed to dive towards the ground, thankfully near the pole, but then seemed to break up into multiple small pieces kind of like sodium behaves when thrown onto water, namely fizzing or igniting like crazy in all directions.

I was immediately concerned the ball or its “remains” was going to earth on me, or the bike, and that I was sitting on a petrol tank! I veered across the road to the right laying the bike down as I rolled off it into an area on the side of the road in as low profile as possible. All this took several seconds, then I carefully put my head up and looked in the direction of the pole. All seemed relatively calm with no apparent ball or bits of it evident, but the storm was almost upon me, with the rain starting to intensify. I immediately righted the motorbike, starting it again, fortunately without any problems, and gunned it out of there, finally reaching cover and safety in Armidale.

This experience, at least to my mind, was ball lightning in action – intense ball of light, storm, lightning etc. I didn’t think the light ball was created by the power lines. And I was certain it wasn’t a UFO. Rather it was nature unbound in wild form.


Blogger David From AU said...

I saw what was described by my father (both parents were present) as "ball lightning" in early 1957 at Battle Boulevard (or nearby, some details hazy after these years) at Seaforth in Sydney. I can remember the period as my parents were "house-hunting" at the time. The "ball lightning" consisted of a large luminous ball threading its way through the large trees on a nearby house. Again, hard to remember everything, but I recall (wrongly or rightly) that it seemed to have a "studded" perimeter ring or rings.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Bill Chalker said...

Thanks David for this fascinating story. Any recollection of possible size beyond "large"? Thanks

4:46 AM  
Blogger David From AU said...

57 years ago and I was only 9, so my recollection is unreliable, but I would guess-timate about 1 metre across. Can't remember how it first appeared, how long we sighted it or what became of it. I think the time was early evening.

5:59 AM  

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