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Physicists Create Great Balls of Fire 87

dylanduck writes "Talk about having fun at work. These guys have created luminous clouds of ball lightning up to 20 centimetres across and lasting up to half a second, longer and more realistic than before. There's a cool video too. They say it may even help understand how to contain the plasmas needed for nuclear fusion."
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Physicists Create Great Balls of Fire

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  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @08:51AM (#15493728)
    Goodness Gracious!
  • Video? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ironwill96 ( 736883 ) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:05AM (#15493822) Homepage Journal
    The video is more of a 19 second slideshow of 6 pictures. I was hoping to see an actual high-speed video of the event not a "video" of pictures.

    • Re:Video? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dorbabil ( 969458 )
      Considering that TFS says that the balls only lasted 1/2 a second (something a lot of my fellow /.ers are probably familiar with), a live video wouldn't be very interesting. 6 seconds of nothing, then a brief flash, then 6 more seconds of nothing.
      • Re:Video? (Score:2, Insightful)

        I think the point is that 3.7mb for 6 webcam quality photos is kind of rediculous.
      • Re:Video? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ironwill96 ( 736883 ) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:27AM (#15493942) Homepage Journal
        Note the statement I made about hoping for a "high speed" video. Haven't you ever seen those videos of a bullet smashing through an apple? Let me assure you that occurs in half a second and yet is more of a video than what they showed.
        • Re:Video? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Tx ( 96709 )
          Yes, it's kind of surprising. Ultra-high speed cameras (>1 million frames per second) can typically only take a handful of pictures. However for something lasting a third of a second, a regular high speed video camera (there are plenty that can do several thousand fps) would be ideal, you'd get hundreds of frames of this event.

          Maybe they were having trouble with the initiation of the event, and running at low framerate/long duration to make sure they captured the event at some point.
          • Most digital high-speed cameras (usually up to around 10 000 fps) basically record permanently to ram, writing over the last 1 or 2 seonds or so. Then when a trigger is initiated, it can save say the half second before, and half a second after the trigger. It's pretty easy if you can hear/see the event happening.

            As for ultra high speed cameras (around 1 million fps), well they're film based systems, where a reel is shot through like a rocket.
            • Re:Video? (Score:5, Informative)

              by Tx ( 96709 ) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @08:41PM (#15499116) Journal
              Pointlessly late reply, but for the benefit of anyone stumbling on this thread in the future:

              Modern ultra high speed cameras of at least one type (the type with which I'm very familiar) consist of several effectively separate digital still cameras looking down the same optical axis via a beamsplitter. Special image intensifiers are used on each still camera module to provide "shuttering" and coincidently to amplify the light enough to get a decent picture at the ridiculously short exposure times used. In order to achieve frame rates of up to 1 billion frames per second (yes, billion), and exposures down to a few hundred picoseconds, a pulse is applied to each of the image intensifiers in rapid sequence. Although the exposure times may be less than a nanosecond, the captured image glows on the phosophor screen for many milliseconds, plenty of time to capture it on the CCDs.

              Film-based cameras involving a rapidly spun reel as mentioned in the parent aren't capable of speeds of more than a few thousand fps. However film-based cameras involving a rapidly rotating mirror and a stationary loop of film can achieve frame rates in the millions.
    • those guys should use this cheap high speed camerea array [slashdot.org]
  • cool "video" (Score:2, Redundant)

    by tverbeek ( 457094 )
    The "cool video" looks more like a series of about a dozen still shots with one-second fades from one to the next. It's more like a slide show than full-motion video.
  • weapons (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mikesd81 ( 518581 ) <mikesd1NO@SPAMverizon.net> on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:08AM (#15493838) Homepage
    This could be a potential weapon of the future. The beginning of the phasers.
    • Re:weapons (Score:4, Funny)

      by AntEater ( 16627 ) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:15AM (#15493885) Homepage
      "This could be a potential weapon of the future..."

      Ah! Now that's the way to get your research funded. Forget about applying for NSF grants. Could my research potentially kill someone? If so, let the DOD fund it. No worries.
    • No, not really. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Valdrax ( 32670 )
      The idea of a self-contained plasma bolt speeding through an atmosphere is just silly. What holds the pocket of plasma together against the wind? I just don't see a high-speed projectile application in the technology's future.
      • I really wouldn't underestimate mankinds ability to turn anything into a weapon, especially balls of sizzling plasma. Actually, what this put me in mind of was the ancient "batteries" [world-mysteries.com] discovered a while back. FTA

        The tank contains two electrodes, one of which is insulated from the surrounding water by a clay tube.

        Sounds remarkably similar. A lightshow, the remnants of some yet earlier technology, or a weapon of the ancients? Or just a battery? The scientists note that they produced this effect by mimic

        • That's an ... err ... interesting article. I was right with them until they said:

          "This experiment proved that electric batteries were used some 1,800 years before their modern invention by Alessandro Volta in 1799."

          Err... no, it doesn't. At the most it proves that somebody made a battery in a 2,000 year old pot at some point during that pot's lifetime. I'm figuring it's more likely to be entirely coincidental, and there's nothing there that doesn't.

          "Iraq has a rich national heritage. The Garden of Eden a
      • Oho yes and I just found the wikipedia article about ball lightning. Apparently fireballs of this sort can carve trenches in peat bogs [wikipedia.org] (and if you have ever gone turf cutting, you will know thats no mean feat).

      • The idea for a plasma bolt to go through the air is to create a vacuum to send a very high power laser through without the problems of blooming. The plasma bolt itself would not itself be what causes all the damage.
      • Re:No, not really. (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Half a dent ( 952274 )
        Would need more mass (fuel) and velocity for this added mass? Perhaps it comes down to the launcher device for plasma packets (what would you call plasma rounds?) - either some form of gauss gun (a bit too sci-fi) or using compressed air - a really nasty surprise for your opponents if you took it paintballing!

        We seem to want to spend a fortune on developing new ways of killing each other when there are plenty of tried and tested methods - guess that's where the research money tends to be although I would p
      • What holds the pocket of plasma together against the wind?
        The leading edge of the plasma ball could be defined by the focus of a phased array of microwave emitters, a fancy version of the votive-candle-in-microwave-oven trick.
        • The leading edge of the plasma ball could be defined by the focus of a phased array of microwave emitters, a fancy version of the votive-candle-in-microwave-oven trick.

          Where would the phased array of microwave emitters have to be positioned on a battlefield? Could it move while the shot is still being fired (as from a moving vehicle)? What range would it be effective at?
          • Oh, come on, you're missing the first rule of Star Trek Military Technology, which is "All your opponents are complete idiots, so you can be too."

            We're talking about a bunch of people who will beam into a highly volatile combat situation with a short-range low-powered raygun, or, if the situation is truly desparate, a medium-range low-powered raygun with effective ranges in the tens or hundreds of feet for all but the most expert users.

            Grenades? Armor? Vehicles? Artillery of any kind, including simply "bigg
    • I'm not sure how you could turn this particular technology into a weapon. "Excuse me... sir... Mr. enemy, could you just step into that pool of water over there for a minute?" This may lead to other areas of research though that could be used as weapons. "Excuse me... sir... Mr. enemy, would you mind if I attached these electrodes in clay tubes to your skin?"
  • That's great (Score:3, Interesting)

    by audj ( 980103 ) <audj@morgantowngamers.com> on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:13AM (#15493868)
    But what do they really know about any of this? The article says all of this was created in a lab inside a glass tank. That doesn't seem representative of a real world environment. The lightning strikes were also altered so that they would last much longer than a normal flash.

    Can someone tell me how playing Zeus is going to help nuclear technology?
    • Remember that nuclear technology isn't performed in your 'real world environment' - instead tending to be created in a (very) controlled environment, akin to that glass tank though bigger. Controlled conditions are exactly what we want for nuclear technology, thank you very much. Playing Zeus in a controlled environment - especially if it works! - is therefore highly relevant and useful.
    • Re:That's great (Score:3, Informative)

      Maybe you should have read more carefully the article. The whole thing is about plasma, which is ionized gas at high temperature. And if you know a little bit about what is going on at ITER [iter.org] you should now understand any advance in plasma behavior knowledge maybe useful to the nuclear fusion experiments and hopefully future commercial reactors.

      This has nothing to do with the nuclear reaction itself, but rather than with the mean the nuclear reaction is triggered into a torus-shaped plasma. One of the great

      • I got the plasma thing - doesn't everyone do the microwave experiment at some point in their highschool chemistry class? I was under the impression that the microwave experiment was actually considered very stable, so I guess in my mind, the question was why go to all the trouble to create something the article says is incredibly unstable.
        Thanks for the explanation though. I think I'd doing pretty good for an English major who married technical.
        • The microwave plasma thing is not a self-sustained plasma, it is induced by the energy from the microwaves. So, it is stable as long as the microwave oven is running. This is a little bit different from a plasma lasting while the enery source has been shutted down.

  • by GroeFaZ ( 850443 ) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:28AM (#15493948)
    They say it may even help understand how to contain the plasmas needed for nuclear fusion.

    Almost the best excuse to have fun, second only to reproduction.
  • Dad was a Bush Pilot (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:30AM (#15493960)
    A bazillion years ago my father was a bush pilot up in Alaska. He had more than a few stories about ball lighting inside the planes he piloted - sometimes lasting for many seconds, rolling up and down the passenger/cargo areas. Maybe they were tall tales meant to impress us kids, but he wasn't usually one to exaggerate.
    • As a skeptic, I have tended to dismiss reports of natural ball lightning, but I must say that I experienced something that appeared similar. When I was a teenager (in the 1960s), I was playing my electric guitar in the living room, when the electrical transformer on the utility pole in front of the house was struck by lightning and exploded in yellow fire. I perceived a white light from behind, and when I turned around, there was an impossibly bright shiny ball of blue-white light sitting right in front of
    • A bazillion years ago my father...he wasn't usually one to exaggerate.

      So, you inherited the trait from your mother? :)
    • Some years ago an accquaintance, who had been an engineer or co-pilot on military transports, told me a similiar story: Lightning struck the airplane and a ball of "lightning" rolled into the flight deck, and across various surfaces before disappearing. The entire incident caused no serious damage. I wonder how common are these incidents in airplanes?
  • When I read the article title, I thought of the movie, The Arrival, given all the talk of global warming, lately.

    I recall the balls of fire in the movie were significantly larger and were not lightning/plasma, though.
  • the arcane (Score:5, Funny)

    by bjackz0r ( 969032 ) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:39AM (#15494014)
    So it's taken us this long to do what level 5 wizards were doing eons ago? I'll be impressed when they can aim these things accurately at orcs.
  • by Morosoph ( 693565 ) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:57AM (#15494107) Homepage Journal
    People have been producing ball lightning in microwave ovens [online.fr] for years!
  • Wow. (Score:2, Funny)

    by NetRanger ( 5584 ) *
    Watching that shook my nerves, and it rattled my brain.
  • THEY'VE got the biggest balls of them all.
  • "from the cousin-marriage dept."

    BRILLIANT!
  • *groan* Did this article occur before or after "Crackpot Discovers Indiana Jones in Atlantis Battling Dinosaurs Originally Bred in Captivity By UFOs From Outer Space?" I'm not disparaging the science at hand, but could we get better source material? Please? Anyone?
  • by millisa ( 151093 ) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @11:11AM (#15494696)
    The fact that the video is a bunch of screenshots where you only see the ball lightning in 2-3 of them has already been mentioned . . . But, they claim it lasts .3 seconds, and even using non-high-speed film at 27-ish fps, we should have gotten a good 8-9 frames . . .

    Some of the statements in the article bug me too. They say it must not be hot because we put a piece of paper over it and it didnt catch fire! Er, I can hold a match under a piece of paper for .3 seconds and it wont catch fire either... How about "We measure it with a digitial thermometer and it was 39 degrees celsius, much cooler than expected!". I'm sorry, but I think our little minds can handle a number like that if we can handle .3 seconds...

    The statement in the article that bugged me the most, which I think is just bad writing was: "Most accounts describe a hovering, glowing, ball-like object up to 40 centimetres across, ranging in colour from red to yellow to blue and lasting for several seconds or in rare cases even minutes." Ranging from Red to Yellow to Blue eh? So they are not . . black? If you range from any of the 3 primary colors to the other 3, don't you about cover everything that isn't a shade of grey and outside of our vision?

    If it was on cnn.com I guess I could let it slide since this'd be closer to their norm, but a site dedicated to science articles? Come on . . .
  • ...when they achieved this. Too bad they didn't have a video of the scientists.

    Were they wearing white coats?

    Were they dignified? ("Indeed, Dr. Fussman, you must write up this notable phenomenon for the Transactions of the Royal Philosophical Society.")

    Or did they behave like Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) in "Back to the Future?"

    Did they shout "Eureka!" Or "Holy s---!" or "What the f---?" Or the German equivalents thereof?

    DId they run out into the hallway and say, "Hey everyone, this is cool, some se
    • As a professional scientist I can answer some of these for you:

      > "Were they wearing white coats?"

      Embarrasingly - probably.

      > "Were they dignified? ("Indeed, Dr. Fussman, you must write up this notable phenomenon for the Transactions of the Royal Philosophical Society.")"

      No!

      >"Or did they behave like Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) in "Back to the Future?"
      > Did they shout "Eureka!" Or "Holy s---!" or "What the f---?" Or the German equivalents thereof?"

      The standard phrase/word is "WOW!" but som
  • More realistic? So you're saying they're actually fake? Sheesh! I make better looking fake stuff ten times a day.
  • Tesla (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Martin Marvinski ( 581860 ) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @03:05PM (#15496674)
    Didn't Tesla do this? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla [wikipedia.org]
  • 6/1 trample haste!!
  • Talk about having fun at work. These guys have created luminous clouds of ball lightning up to 20 centimetres across and lasting up to half a second, longer and more realistic than before.

    More realistic than before? What, were the ones from before drawn imaginary or something? How can you be more realistic than real?

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