In 1983 Jim Thele and I put together "Big Bertha". The idea is that you switch on the solenoid which is linked to 10 car batteries in serial. We did this with a long wooden rod and thick rubber gloves. That baby could move a compass needle from twenty feet away! We could only keep it on for five seconds or it would melt the rubber insulation of the cable. Then we'd ignite a combustible gas at a high temperature with a carbon arc. The containment wall of the gas chamber (thin sheet of wrap) is breached and the plasma ring is accelerated by the compressed field-lines up the tube. The toroid is compressed and pinched, emerging at the mouth as a fully mature ball lightning.
That was the idea anyway. We only got one crack at it. We had trouble fine tuning - couldn't get the gas in the chamber to ignite - and we never got another chance as the building we were performing the experiment in became - shall we say - unavailable. We never did reassemble "Big Bertha", but even today I think she is worth a shot.

What a lot of ball lightning enthusiasts fail to realize is that localized air pressure phenomena is invariably present during ball lightning events; the leading edge of a wing, or - relatively common - a chimney. The spirit of the experiment was to try to repeat and enhance the conditions that have been present during eye witness accounts.


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