Science and Tech
WTF Science?! Can You Guess What These Strange Pics Are?

Marshall Lemon | 19 Dec 2014 16:00
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Most of the time, scientists are perfectly right when dismissing an outlandish claim as pseudoscientific nonsense. But every now and then, researchers have to eat their words. Such was the case with ball lightning, spherical bundles of electricity that showed up during thunderstorms, and occasionally caused significant property damage. For a long time, ball lightning was of the same scientific category as alien sightings or Bigfoot, but by the 1960s the claims were impossible to ignore.

The problem is that ball lightning is rare, short lived, and almost impossible to predict, so you can't just point a camera at at a thunderstorm and expect to spot one. But scientists have been able to create lab-based versions of ball lightning using a variety of methods, including the pictured version produced at the US Air Force Academy. "Plasma fireballs" can be formed using microwave oscillators, while others reportedy produced ball lightning by discharging a capacitor within a water tank.

While these objects are certainly impressive, our picture of natural ball lightning is still incomplete. Chinese scientists first caught a picture of ball lightning in 2012 (by accident, I should add) while our first optical spectrum of the phenomenon was published in Jan. 2014. While our knowledge is improving, we still have a long way to go before ball lightning is as well understood as regular lightning. How long that will take is anyone's guess.

Which ones did you get right? Which ones did you get wrong? Go ahead and discuss in the comments, and if you have any suggestions for future images, you can message or tweet me about them!

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