Adelaide, South Australia, where I live, is having a rare few days of heavy rain. We have a reputation as being the driest capital city, in the driest state, on the driest continent, but not today. A good day for being in my local library, reading science magazines, which brings me to the topic of this post.
Balls of light which float over the countryside or even down suburban streets, during a thunderstorm, are part of UFO lore. "Ball lightning" has been suggested as an explanation for some of these UFO sightings.
Now, however, an article in the 22 May 2010 "New Scientist" magazine page 10 makes a startling claim.
The article, by Kate McAlpine, reports on the work of Josef Peer and Alexander Kendl of the University of Innsbruck, Austria. "They estimate that someone standing between 20 and 200 metres from a [lightning] strike has a 1 per cent chance of seeing a magnetically induced hallucination" of a ball of light.
This lightning strike generates magnetic fields which trigger neurons in the brain to fire, causing the perception of a ball of light.
"The general notion that the electromagnetic field of lightning might [affect] neural tissue is interesting" says Thomas Kammer of the University of Ulm in Germany, who advised the team on neurological issues."