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Mysterious ball lightning: Illusion or reality?
Date:5/18/2010

This release is available in German.

Ball lightnings are circular light phenomena occurring during thunderstorms and there are a large class of reports by eyewitnesses having experienced such events. Scientists have been puzzled by the nature of these apparent fire balls for a long time. Now physicists at the University of Innsbruck have calculated that the magnetic field of long lightning strokes may produce the image of luminous shapes, also known as phosphenes, in the brain. This finding may offer an explanation for many ball lightning observations.

Magnetic fields may induce sensations

Physicists Josef Peer and Alexander Kendl from the University of Innsbruck have studied electromagnetic fields of different types of lightning strokes occurring during thunderstorms. Their calculations suggest that the magnetic fields of a specific class of long lasting repetitive lightning discharges show the same properties as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a technique commonly used in clinical and psychiatric practice to stimulate neural activity in the human brain.

Time varying and sufficiently strong magnetic fields induce electrical fields in the brain, specifically, in neurons of the visual cortex, which may invoke phosphenes. "In the clinical application of TMS, luminous and apparently real visual perceptions in varying shapes and colors within the visual field of the patients and test persons are reported and well examined," says Alexander Kendl. The Innsbruck physicists have now calculated that a near lightning stroke of long lasting thunderbolts may also generate these luminous visions, which are likely to appear as ball lightning. Their findings are published in the journal Physics Letters A.

Is the mystery of ball lightning solved now?

Ball lightnings are rather rare events. The ma
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Contact: Alexander Kendl
alexander.kendl@uibk.ac.at
43-512-507-6267
University of Innsbruck
Source:Eurekalert  

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