lightning ball

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Until recently, many physicists even doubted such other-worldly events could even occur. Ball lightning may have first been documented by the early Greeks, who reported seeing small balls of bright plasma-like light hovering over the ground before vanishing.

Although scientific explanations remain exasperatingly out of reach, numerous hypothesis have been offered.

And a new innovative idea has now been proposed about ball lightning, involving the addition of a fifth dimension.

Dr Andrea Aiello, a theoretical physicist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light told "My personal idea - just the simplest geometrical description I can think of - is about adding an extra dimension."

Dr Aiello has a personal reason for pursuing an interest in the fascinating phenomena, as he saw some first hand as a child.

He said: "I was a teenager in that time, so I'm talking about more than 30 so ago, and I was with my sister and she can also still vividly recall this episode.

"We were just playing in our room with some unplugged electric cable and outside there was, I would say, a spring storm.

"And suddenly, just in front of our eyes, a couple of meters distant from us appeared this ball of light, the size of a football.

"This was situated in the air for some few seconds without any noise, without any smell or without any heating.

"Then 'poof' as it appeared, it disappeared. It was really cool.

"At that time, I was just beginning high school, I was not going to science at all.

"But only many years later, I realised what I was watching was actually a typical ball lightning."

The theoretical physicist is at pains to point out he is not proposing a theory.

ball lightning 1
© Getty
Path of ball lightning observed at the Hotel Georges du Loup, near Nice in 1902
He said: "A theory of some physical phenomenon is much more than just a description, also, a theory aims at explaining how and why the phenomenon happened.

"But we have basically no quantitative observation of the phenomenon, so we are not able to make this a theory."

And he also underlines such an extra dimension has nothing to do with the realm of science-fiction.

Dr Aiello said: "There are serious physical theories like string theory, which predicted an 11 dimensional world, and we have access only to four - the spacial plus one dimension, because of some still-unclear reason.

"In the 30s and later physicists [Theodor] Kaluza and [Abraham] Klein tried to develop a theory of electromagnetism and gravity together and they found the ingredient to develop this theory with the extra sense of fifth dimension.

"So, my simple explanation is a geometrically very simple: take an ordinary lightning in our 3D world.

"Geometrically speaking, lightening is a cylinder connecting the sky to the ground.

"If you cut through the cylinder, the cross section of the cylinder is just a circle.

"Now imagine instead of such 'ordinary' lightning - there is a cylinder in five dimensions.

"If, for some reason, this five dimensional lightning crosses our three dimensional brain, what is the cross section of a four dimensional cylinder?

"The generalisation of the circle in two plus one three dimension - that is a sphere.

"One would just observe a sphere of light and the sphere of light is exactly what I could saw with my eyes.

"And the reason why I think it was just a light and not some physical processor like a hot plasma-like gas, was because there are no physical consequences - no smell, heat, flow - nothing, absolutely nothing.

ball lightning 2
© Getty
Ball lightning was witnessed at the Hotel Georges du Loup in1902
"It just a light. So that's why I found that this explanation very attractive and very simple."

However, the physicist has expressed doubts whether he will ever fully follow through with his theory.

He said: "Ball lightning is not the my professional line of research, this is just my private interest, something I do, say, on Sunday night.

"I don't know when or even if will ever come up with a quantitative theory, but say if I will, it will certainly be along this direction - exploring the possibility of studying ordinary lightning in four plus one dimensions and to see how they could manifest in our three plus one dimensional universe."

Given its ephemeral nature, various explanations have now been offered for ball lightning.

But Dr Aiello has nothing against one theory or another.

He said: "The problem is not on the theoretical side, it is on the observation side - that is, until we have some quantitative measurements of the phenomenon, all the theories can be equally acceptable.

"At this stage, they're all equally valid and equally possible."