Skeptics have often claimed that ball lightning is responsible for UFO sightings, even though it is extremely rare. Now scientists say it may be linked to spontaneous human combustion.

Ball lightning occurs so rarely that few photographs of it exist and researchers have had to rely on eyewitness accounts, some of them from previous centuries. The term describes small natural fireballs which very occasionally follow ordinary lightning, floating across land or through buildings and aircraft.

Among the new findings are that ball lightning can be powerful enough to boil away water and burn flesh. They also suggest that water droplets, ?polymer threads? and ?metal nanoparticle chains? may form the actual lightning balls.

Fireballs last around 10 seconds and the lightning balls move around, sometimes downwards, sometimes upwards, sometimes indoors, sometimes through glass. The ball often disappears in an explosion, sometimes causing damage.

A newly-discovered journal describes ball lightning seen in Papua New Guinea this way: ?The ball of lightning (which was actually about the size of a cricket ball) came out of the clumps of bamboo, passed through the front wall of our house, moved very quickly through the lounge room and disappeared out the back wall. The ball of lightning moved at about head height and was clearly visible in ball form. After it came through our front wall, it did not move in a straight line to our back wall; in fact, it seemed to do a few little detours around the room before it passed through the back wall.? A rare photograph of ball lightning taken by an Australian wildlife ranger has also been discovered.

There are several theories explaining ball lightning. One says ordinary lightning sometimes causes matter to separate. Another says ordinary lightning hits the ground or a tree and dislodges a glowing mass. A third says fuel gases are ignited by electrical charges in the atmosphere and a fourth says the luminous globe is a product of electromagnetic radiation.

Dr. John Abrahamson, of Canterbury University in New Zealand, says, ?I, like [other researchers], am frustrated at not being able to reproduce the full phenomenon in the lab.In spite of this, we all regard our theories as explaining most, if not all, natural ball lightning observations, in sometimes conflicting ways!?

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