Related: Is there any scientific proof that ball lightning is real?

Someone passed along this The Oatmeal comic about Tesla. It's quite interesting and entertaining. I was curious about a lot of the statements' complete veracity, but this one in particular struck me (emphasis mine):

Ever heard of ball lightning?

It's lightning that appears in the form of a sphere and travels slowly while traveling a few feet above the ground.

It's an extremely rare phenomenon and even today no scientists have ever successfully produced it in a laboratory.

Oh, except Tesla did it back in the 1890's

The related link above says that we currently have no explanation, which I would think makes it pretty difficult to replicate. Did Tesla, indeed, create the only "artificially-generated" ball lightning to date?

Or perhaps a better question is, "What is the source and reliability of the evidence supporting Tesla as having created ball lightning?"

  • 14
    From my quick reading it looks like there is argument as to what ball lightning even is so it will be hard to say if Tesla created it. Also, the phenomenon that he observed doesn't quite match the generally accepted consensus of what ball lightning is.
    – rjzii
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 16:16
  • 12
    If his experiment wasn't reproducible, that isn't a sign that he was more brilliant than everyone else; it's a sign that his experiment was bad. Reproducibility is essential to good science. Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 16:42

3 Answers 3


While Tesla was reportably able to reproduce this in a laboratory setting well before any other scientists could, we have been able to produce it since then.

A press release from the Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik which is repeated by PHYS ORG show it.

  • 4
    I still don't think that this answers the question - the link is to ball-lightning-like plasma, not ball-lightning. The description in the article leads any practical reader to believe that what they created is in fact not actual ball-lightning. Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 5:34
  • 1
    Can you justify your first statement? Is it just Tesla himself who claimed that he could do this? Are their reliable witnesses? The man literally went crazy, and there are lots of people perfectly willing to just make stuff about him.
    – Harabeck
    Commented Aug 10, 2018 at 21:19
  • This answer was like 6 years ago, but diving back into it... He was quoted in Electrical World and Engineer in March 1904 saying "I never saw fire balls, but as compensation for my disappointment I succeeded later in determining the mode of their formation and producing them artificially." He also talks about this in his Colorado Springs notes from 1899-1900.
    – Cruril
    Commented Aug 10, 2018 at 21:44
  • Also, originally I had included something about how Tesla was a bit crazy so that is why he was not as respected or believed like he should have been. Since it wasn't relevant to the answer it was removed shortly after the original answer was posted. The question I was answering wasn't about Tesla, it was about ball lightning.
    – Cruril
    Commented Aug 10, 2018 at 21:49

He is not the only one to reproduce ball lightning.

Mysterious 'Ball Lightning' Recreated In The Lab [GIFS]

From a NASA site (PDF):

At last the discovery of how to produce ball lightning on a command and controlled basis has been discovered by Robert K. Golka, Jr. It took 23 years and thousands of failures to develop the techniques. Similar plasma balls have appeared in dwellings on rare occasions and on commercial and military aircraft during flight.

The type Golka has created are similar to what has come into airplanes during flight and that have appeared in WW-2 submarines during maneuvers. They consist of a liquid metal core or kernel surrounded by a metal vapor boundary layer. It has characteristics very much like a drop of water bouncing and dancing for a few seconds on a hot cast-iron stove. With higher power input to the fireball it can be made to flow and travel higher from a surface or ground area.

  • The article of Design News by Paul Snigier on Ball Lightning being the possible key to fusion is interesting.........find it in the FBI files recently released. vault.fbi.gov/nikola-tesla/Nikola%20Tesla%20Part%2001%20of%2003/…
    – user37323
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 9:36
  • 4
    Please do not write link-only answers (links may go away). Quote the essential parts of the text in your answer.
    – user22865
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 10:49
  • 3
    I copied in the relevant material from the NASA link. Apparently Business Insider requires Javascript or cookies to read, so I didn't access the content there and did not copy it into the answer.
    – Brythan
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 14:48
  • phys.org/news/…
    – Muze
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 19:13

He is not the only but beyond doubt was the first one. According to Ball lightnings in Tesla's lab:

The adjustments should be made with particular care when the transmitter is one of great power, not only on accout of economy, but also in order to avoid danger. I have shown that it is practicable to produce in a resonating circuit as E A B B’ D immense electrical activities, measured by tens and even hundreds of thousands of horse-power, and in such case, if the points of maximum pressure should be shifted below the terminal D, along coil B, a ball of fire might break out and destroy the support F 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 born 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 a rate on many millions of horse power. The accident is apt to occur when, the transmitting circuit 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. It is therefore advisable to begin the adjustments with feeble and somewhat slower impressed oscillations, strengthening and quickening them gradually, until the apparatus has been brought under perfect control. To increase the safety, I provide on a convenient place, preferably on terminal D, one or more elments or plates either of somewhat smaller radius of curvature or protruding more or less beyond the others (in wich case they may be of larger radius of curvature) so that, should the pressure rise to a value, beyond wich it is not desired to go, the powerful discharge may dart out there and lose itself harmlessly in the air. Such a plate, performing a function similar to that of a safety valve on a high pressure reservoir, is indicated at V.

Nikola Tesla: US1,119,732. Apparatus for transmitting electrical energy, Jan. 18, 1902.

  • I want to write an answer...
    – Steve
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 20:43

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