There’s a lot of observed phenomena in the world which the only evidence we have of it occurring is from numerous first hand accounts. Whilst these can make for interesting stories, potentially leading to scientific theories to explain said phenomena, the plural of anecdote isn’t data and unfortunately that means they’re rarely the subject of rigorous study. However sometimes serendipity strikes and the right people just happen to be in the right place with the right equipment to capture solid proof of a phenomena, solidifying all those anecdotes with a solid scientific narrative.
And today we now have proof that ball lightning exists:
The video might not look like much but it’s a combination of high-speed video (the little ball on the left) and a spectrograph that details the composition of the spectra coming off the light source. This video was made possible by the fact that Chinese researches were at the Qinghai Plateau to observe regular old cloud to ground lightning and just so happened to catch a ball lightning event in action. The spectrograph allowed them to determine the composition of the ball as well and it closely matched that of soil. This is the first supporting evidence we have of the theory that ball lightning is actually vaporized silicon from the soil as the element, when heated, does seem to act an awful lot like ball lightning.
Interestingly though this only gives credence to one reported type of ball lightning as there have been reports of other types, specifically ones that move horizontally and others that don’t touch the ground at all. Considering how long it took us just to get this observation I wouldn’t be holding my breath to see the other types confirmed any time soon but this does open up the possibility of more research being done in the area. If anything it shows that some weird, random phenomena that have been reported elsewhere might be worth investigation, even if its just to confirm or deny that they exist.