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Keywords:

  • ball lightning;
  • corona discharge;
  • glow discharge;
  • space charge;
  • stepped leader

[1] Many observations of ball lightning report a ball of light, about 10 cm in diameter, moving at about walking speed, lasting up to 20 s and frequently existing inside of houses and even aeroplanes. The present paper reports detailed observations of the initiation or birth of ball lightning. In two cases, navigation crew of aircraft saw ball lightning form at the windscreen inside the cockpit of their planes. In the first case, the ball lightning occurred during a thunderstorm, with much lightning activity outside of the plane. In the second case, large “horns” of electrical corona were seen outside of the plane at the surface of the radome, just prior to the formation of the ball lightning. A third case reports ball lightning formed inside of a house, during a thunderstorm, at a closed glass window. It is proposed, based on two-dimensional calculations of electron and ion transport, that ball lightning in these cases is driven and formed by atmospheric ions impinging and collecting on the insulating surface of the glass or Perspex windows. This surface charge can produce electric fields inside of the cockpit or room sufficient to sustain an electric discharge. Charges of opposite sign to those outside of the window accumulate on the inside surface of the glass, leaving a ball of net charge moving inside of the cockpit or room to produce a pulsed discharge on a microsecond time scale.