Videos purporting to show the rare natural phenomenon of ball lightning are popping up on social media. Are they real or fake?
If you are familiar with my interests, you know I love anomalous luminous phenomena – earth lights, spook lights, will-o-the-wisp, earthquake lights, ball lightning, earth glows, undersea lights, etc. – all kinds of proposed weird natural lights (except human-generated lights or alleged alien craft, which are boring).
This post is about the proliferation of videos of ball lightning. There are now lots of them thanks to YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. Along with videos of claimed paranormal events, these videos are almost always fake or misinterpretations, but they go viral. Comments suggests, however, that many people believe they are real.
Ball lightning is a particularly thorny issue because it’s almost certainly a real thing, just very rare and takes place under conditions where people will not see it. The descriptions of what it is supposed to look like come from eyewitnesses over the centuries. It is described in association with an electrical storm where the “ball” results from the aftermath of a lighting bolt, and lasts less than a minute traveling up or down from a cloud or along the ground.
There has been considerable scientific research into the formation of ball lightning, far more than most people will ever be able to consume. But that’s for another time, should I choose to go there. For this piece, I’m particularly interested in the videos that claim to show it and how it’s fairly easy to tell that they don’t.
Famous video of the ball on the railroad tracks
Many people might be familiar with what is almost certainly the most popular video that was labeled as ball lightning. It was the electric blue sparking sphere traveling across railroad tracks supposedly taken in Belarus by Andre Trukhonovets in May 2019. Andre posted it to his YouTube channel at that time. But it was stolen and re-posted in lots of other places lacking important context. Andre had labeled it as CGI that he had generated. But it went viral as “real” ball lightning.
So, it didn’t take much detective work to figure this one out. However, the video had obvious clues for the careful viewer that it was not genuine. And, it was not believable as ball lightning because it wasn’t in association with typical lightning discharges.
Swooping ball video 2023
A video came to my attention this week as an example of ball lightning. This version was, on its face, really poor CGI. The video is taken by someone on a porch or covered area during a storm. After a lightning bolt, a ball manifests and swoops dramatically around the sky in an area defined by the edges of the viewing area (a red flag). The ball looks cartoonish with a glowing trail. The video didn’t come with any provenance so I had to go looking. I found it active on Reddit (r/bizarrelife). Searching the other usual sources, I tracked it back to a May 4, 2023 post on TikTok by the user N-COG (incognitogamestv) who is @antoniotheleo on Instagram. His channel is full of bad paranormal fakes. I don’t know if he makes them or he just posts them. As with typical hoaxed videos, the background content is real but the ball lightning has been added.
I’ve embedded the cropped version that I first saw. (It’s hosted on my own channel so no one is making revenue off it except YouTube.)
Ball lightning has not been credibly reported to look or behave like this. Fake all the way. There are LOTS of these fake videos. Many come from eastern countries.
Kazakhstan, August 2021: A video shows a small child playing when a ball of light enters the window and travels through the house. This is fake.
Yet, once again, it’s assumed to be real because people can only imagine what ball lightning looks like. We have no standard to judge. Or do we?
Has ball lightning ever been captured on video?
The answer to this appears to be “yes”. Unfortunately, we are not able to view the entire definitive video that was inadvertently captured on 23 July 2012 by Chinese researchers studying cloud to ground lightning. They recorded digital video of the entire process. The ball itself was generated from a cloud to ground lightning channel and lasted 1.64 seconds. But even the researchers who wrote up the results of the find noted that there may be different means of generation of ball lightning because not all reports are at ground level following a cloud to ground strike.
There are several videos in the public sphere that show specs of light floating in the sky in proximity to an electrical storm. We can’t confirm that any video shows actual ball lightning because the conditions are entirely uncontrolled and usually not verifiable. They could be aircraft, reflective balloons, sky lanterns, insects, birds, light reflections, or something else mundane.
Lyons, Colorado, June 2001: Glowing ball is seen between two lightning bolts for about 10 seconds. Featured on TWC’s Strangest Weather on Earth.
Unknown location, June 2019: One glowing ball appears near the middle of the image and floats slowly to the right. Another ball appears near the base of the cloud. Posted by Tina Davies.
Sioux Falls, SD, July 2015: Excellent, clear video of a fantastic lightning show. Suddenly, a ball rapidly descends from the cloud to the ground.
Note that it would be easy to miss these specs of light, particularly if you are not keen to stand outside in dangerous conditions.
Not ball lightning
There can be other reasonable explanations for the lights including electrical arcing and unanticipated light reflections.
Novosibirsk, Russia, August 2016: Bright blue light appears on the ground during a storm. Video by Roman Tregubov. This bright blue color and location near the ground is indicative of electrical arcing from a power line, not ball lightning.
Sometimes these videos make thew news. The term “ball lightning” is used but it’s clearly NOT that.
Sacramento, CA, August 2020: The news announcer doesn’t say what is “ball lightning” in the video – the ground lights or the lens reflections of those lights that appear like balls in the sky. Nothing in the video shows ball lightning.
Finally, some people call them UFOs instead.
Fort Lauderdale Beach, Florida, June 2023: A man is filming a lightning storm when a beam zips through the sky. The media called this a UFO, some commenters said ball lightning, but it was a reflection of the car headlight. The light on the right is probably a plane. Video: Carmen Rich
I’ll remain on the lookout for the best ball lightning videos but, for now, assume that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.