Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Grandma Betty wasn't Crazy

Friday, June 12, 2009

Current mood: nostalgic
...at least not when it came to her fear about the weather.

When I think of my mother's mother, she's always been my favorite Grandparent. Very artistic. Very eccentric. And one of the things I will always remember regarding her personal eccentricities is her behavior dealing with stormy weather.

If there was a storm coming in, the first thing she did was gather all the laundry from the line. Sensible. Makes perfect sense. But this is where it got interesting. Because the next thing she did was go around the house making sure everything electrical was shut off...and with only a few exceptions, that what -could- be unplugged, was. The next step was always the same-- get a flashlight, and gather all people in the house into the basement until the weather had passed.

To be honest, to young children, it was VERY exciting (: No one I've ever known treated storms like my Grandma Betty.

And one of the best parts was when she'd tell us her storm stories. There are two that stick out vividly in my mind. Both, told at the same time. And both about ball lightning.

When she was a little girl, and they still used a chimney, she had her first encounter with ball lightning. She says she was about 6. And the family was in the living room, near the fire place, when a large ball of lightning came down the chimney, rolled into the room-- and then exploded. She was married to my Grandpa Ervin, and they were living in their home when she encountered it the second time (and this is the house that we always ended up in the basement of). They were in the living room, and ball lightning came through the front window -without breaking it-! And exploded in the middle of the room.

Now, I've never encountered ball lightning, but I DO have 3 lightning stories of my own that thinking about her always brings fresh into my mind. The first, I was about 5, and my family was on a little island in the middle of a lake that we'd canoed out to for a family gathering-- I remember because my family, and my Aunt Charlene's family were all there. And we'd beed playing in the water when a storm started up. Of course, they made us get out of the water, but that didn't stop me from WATCHING the water. And I swear to you, I saw pink/purple lightning snaking through the water twice. It almost looked like a living thing until it faded away.

The second, I was 6, and riding the school bus. It was a pretty normal thunderstorm, and I had my hand on the glass to cool me-- and a bit of lightning struck the glass on the other side. I pulled my hand back as fast as I could and that lightning lasted long enough for me to watch is spider across that window.

And the third, I was about 7, and my mother was driving us home from visiting my Grandmother in Michigan, and it was a HELL of a thunderstorm-- rain coming down in sheets where you can't see more than 1 1/2 feet outside of the car in any direction. But my mother kept pushing on, in part, because lightning kept striking within that 1 1/2 foot distance. I watched it on the passenger side strike the ground within that distance and throw dirt and gravel into the air. Twice. At different parts along the road. I have never before, nor since, felt like I was being stalked by the weather, but all 3 of us did that day. Especially as it struck on the drivers side ground at least 3 times, and behind us at least twice more.

So what brought on all these memories this morning? Well, I went to check my email, and Yahoo always takes me to their news feed section, and they had an article on lighting shapes that seem like giant lightning jelly fish in the clouds and the possibility of subclassifying a new type of cloud-- and it also had links to weird storms. Which led me to http://www.thunderbolts.info/webnews/ieee_plasma_balllightening.htm

The IEEE, Plasma Cosmology and Extreme Ball Lightning
Wallace Thornhill, Holoscience.com

(edited to the part relevant to my blog)

Extreme Ball Lightning


>>The earliest eyewitness sketch of a ball lightning fatality?

For me, one of the highlights of the IEEE Plasma Sciences meeting was a Plenary Talk by J. Pace VanDevender, Vice President Emeritus of Sandia National Labs, titled "Ball Lightning: New Physics, New Energy Source, or Just Entertainment."


>> Pace VanDevender at the IEEE ICOPS 2006 meeting. Photo: Wal Thornhill

Dr. VanDevender is a Senior Member of the IEEE and a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

VanDevender does not consider ball lightning as "just entertainment." He has launched into what he calls "High Risk Research at the Boundary of Denial and Superstition." His interest focuses on "Extreme Ball Lightning." The term "extreme" distinguishes it from ordinary ball lightning, which lasts less than 10 seconds and is benign. Ordinary ball lightning is probably "normal plasma." It is the kind of ball lightning produced in the laboratory. It spontaneously appears in the open-air, closed rooms, aircraft at altitude, and was seen in at least one submarine. It appears before, during or after lightning. About 5% are seen in clear weather.

However, VanDevender distinguished extreme ball lightning (EBL) by the following characteristics:
• it glows in air;
• it originates from nothing visible;
• it lasts between 10 and 1200 seconds;
• it floats at about 1 meter/second;
• it is lethal or potentially lethal;
• it causes significant damage;
• it contains energy estimated at 100,000 to 1 billion Joules, far in excess of the energy density attributable to chemicals or electrostatics;
• it penetrates walls, glass and metal, generally without leaving a hole;
• it induces large currents but is in radial force equilibrium;
• it leaves black streaks on corpses without the spasm of electrocution;
• it can excavate tons of earth.

An EBL in County Donegal, Ireland, on August 6, 1868 travelled about 1.6 km and excavated ~200 cubic meters of water saturated peat in ~ 1200 second. VanDevender followed up a reputable report by Michael Fitzgerald to the Royal Society with a visit to the site. He confirmed the essentials, insofar as it was possible so long after the event. It was evident that the conductive peat would immediately neutralize any charge, so EBL cannot be electrostatic.

Many ideas have been suggested. Radio frequency excitation by a thunderstorm; polymer threads carrying large electric charges; tiny black holes; and antigravity (offered by Carl Sagan from unspecified physics). But to date, no theory addresses the characteristics of EBL. It is an intriguing problem. VanDevender said, "It seems to require new physics."

My view is that explaining EBL doesn't require new physics. The answer may be obscured by mistaken concepts in particle physics. The clue comes from the observed ability of EBL to penetrate solid material. VanDevender noted that EBL "may be subatomic and electrically neutral to not violate impenetrability of matter." There is one stable subatomic particle that has the ability to pass through solids without any appreciable effect – the neutrino. But how can energy be stored in neutrinos?

A neutrino has a vanishingly small mass which allows it to change "flavours." If we do away with the misleading and inappropriate language of particle physics, we may view the neutrino "flavours" as different resonant states of an orbiting system of massless charges within the neutrino. This simple concept that all subatomic particles, including the electron and neutrino, are composed of various resonant configurations of smaller units of charge was discussed in "Toward a Real Theory of Everything." There I wrote, "The most collapsed form of matter is the neutrino, which has a vanishingly small mass. However, the neutrino must contain all of the charges required to form two particles – a particle and its antiparticle – in a process known as "pair production." This symmetry explains why a neutrino is considered to be its own anti-particle. A neutrino, in the presence of an atomic nucleus, may accept energy from a gamma ray to reconstitute a particle and its anti-particle. "Empty space" is full of neutrinos. They are the repositories of matter in the universe, awaiting the burst of gamma-radiation to expand them to form the stuff of atoms."

In this model of neutrino structure, neutrinos may have intermediate, unstable resonant states between their ground state and the state at which they split to form a particle and anti-particle (pair production). Therefore, EBL may be a rare phenomenon because it would require an exquisitely tuned resonant environment to "pump up" the internal energy of a population of neutrinos that happen to be "passing through."

It is known that pair production requires the presence of an atomic nucleus to catalyze the reaction. It seems likely that in the presence of an excited nucleus a neutrino may accept a lower level of energy than required for pair production and form a stable "heavy neutrino."

I envisage, for example, a lightning bolt striking a mineral that contains a concentration of some heavy element, which acts as a nuclear catalyst. In other words, the heavy element has a resonance within its nucleus that matches a high-energy one in adjacent neutrinos. There may be other ways to excite this resonance.

The model I envisage for EBL goes like this:

1. A heavy element within the environment has a resonance within the nucleus excited by lightning, cosmic-rays or some other means.

2. Ubiquitous neutrinos drifting through the excited atoms accept energy resonantly from a number of such excited nuclei.

3. Following the usual relationship between mass and stored electrical energy,
E = mc2, the mass of the neutrino increases.

4. Such "heavy" or excited neutrinos are distorted to form tiny electric dipoles, which will tend to clump together since they have zero net repulsive charge.

5. The energy required to split a neutrino into a positron-electron pair is considerable – about a million electron volts. That provides us with an upper limit of the energy that may be stored within a single neutrino without splitting it in two. It satisfies the requirement that the stored energy in EBL exceeds that available by chemical or electrostatic means.

6. The heavy neutrinos in the EBL would need to have a total mass of a mere hundredth of a milligram to provide a gigajoule of energy.

7. The radial electric field within the tiny sphere of heavy neutrinos may be sufficiently intense to disrupt (ionize) atoms they encounter. This may explain the glow and movement of EBL.

8. Heavy neutrinos respond only weakly to gravity and have no buoyancy since they do not displace matter but pass right through it. This explains how EBL may pass through "walls, glass and metal, generally without leaving a hole."

9. The heavy neutrinos will tend to release their stored energy upon encounters with any atomic nuclei capable of resonant interactions with them.

10. Considerable energy is available from transitions of the heavy neutrinos back to the ground state. Low-energy intermediate transitions may power the glow and movement of the EBL. A sudden, explosive release of energy may be triggered by chemical elements in the environment that can accept energy resonantly from the EBL. High-energy transitions leading to sudden heating and explosion are observed.

11. This model explains why electrostatic effects are not found. Victims are burnt or blackened and not electrocuted.

There are electromagnetic phenomena associated with EBL that need to be investigated and the mode of energy transfer to the environment needs more study. The question also arises whether it is likely that heavy neutrinos might have been observed in the laboratory. Neutrinos are the most common and the most elusive particles in the universe – even more elusive than extreme ball lightning.


Now, I don't know when this was presented, but I DO know that there are lab created ball lightnings-- I watched them on youtube, trying to see if anyone had seen ball lightning like my Grandma Betty had. There aren't any like that-- and to be honest, unless someone in the middle of such an extreme ball lightning episodes happens to be already recording whatever else is going on in the room, it's unlikely it ever will be documented on video.

Thinking about it, and that she encountered ebl -twice-, I begin to understand a little better why Grandma Betty was so cautious regarding storms (:

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