Over the ages there have been many accounts of ball lightning.

Some accounts from Wikipedia are as follows:

One of the earliest descriptions was reported during The Great Thunderstorm at a church in Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon, in England, on 21 October 1638. Four people died and approximately 60 were injured when, during a severe storm, an 8-foot (2.4 m) ball of fire was described as striking and entering the church, nearly destroying it. Large stones from the church walls were hurled into the ground and through large wooden beams. The ball of fire allegedly smashed the pews and many windows, and filled the church with a foul sulfurous odor and dark, thick smoke.

The ball of fire reportedly divided into two segments, one exiting through a window by smashing it open, the other disappearing somewhere inside the church. The explanation at the time, because of the fire and sulfur smell, was that the ball of fire was "the devil" or the "flames of hell". Later, some blamed the entire incident on two people who had been playing cards in the pew during the sermon, thereby incurring God's wrath.

One without a religious angle:

In 1954 Domokos Tar, a physicist, observed a lightning strike during a heavy thunderstorm. A single bush was flattened in the wind. Some seconds later a speedy rotating ring (cylinder) appeared in the shape of a wreath. The ring was about 5 m away from the lightning impact point. The ring's plane was perpendicular to the ground and in full view of the observer. The outer/inner diameters were about 60/30 cm. The ring rotated quickly about 80 cm above the ground. It was composed of wet leaves and dirt and rotated counter clockwise. After seconds the ring became self-illuminated turning increasingly red, then orange, yellow and finally white. The ring (cylinder) at the outside was similar to a sparkler. In spite of the rain, many electrical high voltage discharges could be seen. After some seconds , the ring suddenly disappeared and simultaneously the Ball Lightning appeared in the middle. Initially the ball had only one tail and it rotated in the same direction as the ring. It was homogenous and showed no transparency. In the first moment the ball hovered motionless, but then began to move forward on the same line with a constant speed of about 1m/sec. It was stable and travelled at the same height in spite of the heavy rain and strong wind. After moving about 10 m it suddenly disappeared without any noise.

There are also videos purporting to be ball lightning available on YouTube and I have heard a hypothesis that this UFO incident could be ball lightning.

So the question remains is ball lightning scientifically verifiable, or is there another explanation for all these events (e.g. meteorites, imaginative stories, video manipulation, etc).

  • I also am unable to comment here. One of my immediate family members has witnessed ball lightning first hand (I wasn't around). Lightning struck the antenna of the house, went down to the end of the wire and there inside the house formed a ball of lightning, which flew out into the living room (where the wind from it knocked some papers out of my grandmonther's hands) and went out the open window.
    – Dale
    Apr 28, 2011 at 16:02
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    Straight dope article
    – Casebash
    Apr 30, 2011 at 6:55
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    For what it's worth I've experienced a ball lightning when I was about 5 years old. It was in a rural area, during heavy rain accompanied with thunders. I was inside the house next to the landline phone with a door or window open, when this damn blueish ball of about 5cm in diameter passed right by me (less than 0.5m), and veered in a UFO-ish pattern. Of course I was small and may be imagining or misremembering things, but this is what I do remember.
    – landroni
    Jul 28, 2014 at 13:41

2 Answers 2


Scientific American has an article on the topic:

Ball lightning may be more exotic than microwave oven sparks, but most scientists are convinced that it is no less real. Martin A. Uman, chair of the department of electrical computer engineering at the University of Florida at Gainesville explains:

"Ball lightning is a well-documented phenomenon in the sense that it has been seen and consistently described by people in all walks of life since the time of the ancient Greeks. There is no accepted theory for what causes it. It does not necessarily consist of plasma; for example, ball lightning could be the result of a chemiluminescent process. The literature abounds with speculations on the physics of the ball lightning."

So, if by "scientific proof" you mean "accepted and experimentally proven natural sciences theory explaining" ball lightning, the answer is "NO".

However, if you mean "is there historical proof that it exists and is not just a myth/rumor", then yes, such phenomenon is very widely documented to have been observed. In addition to SciAm article linked above, English Wikipedia has a pretty good writeup of historical evidence for it that I think the original question actually quoted from

  • 1
    There is also this article on National Geographic about a possible ball lightning theory.
    – Reid
    Apr 28, 2011 at 20:50
  • Covered all the bases :)
    – Ardesco
    Apr 28, 2011 at 21:08
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    This answer is arguably out-dated -- Chinese scientists claim to have recorded ball lightning "in the wild" in July 2012. Their spectrographs, in addition to various lab experiments, seem to support the soil vaporization hypothesis. Jul 28, 2014 at 20:12

Apologies, since this is my first post on this particular stack, I can't comment but only answer.

I can't give you any scientific answers, but it looks like you're gathering reports of Ball Lightning, so I thought that might help.

There is a book called 'Safety and security in mountain sports' by Pit Schubert, which I picked up a few years back. It describes all possible incidents ranging from a broken carabiner to into-the-void-ian stories.


It is however ridiculously hard to find a translated version (though they exists, I had one from a library in Belgium once).

It has first hand reports of ball lightning from rock climbers and I'm sure you can contact the author about it if you want to get to the bottom of these accounts.

Best of luck!

  • thanks for the edit, didn't know it was on google books (last time I Really looked for it was 4 years ago)
    – joon
    Apr 28, 2011 at 15:28

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