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, because of the tragic auto accident and death of my partner, Jim Thele. Jim really knew his stuff; he had a degree in electrical engineering whereas I was merely inspiration. To have proceeded with this experiment alone would have been foolishly dangerous, and I might well have followed Jim into oblivion. The experiment was dismantled. I never have reassembled "Big Bertha", but even today (2018) I think the concept 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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