Odd Balls of Fire


Following on from the last post on “possessed foods”, comes more discussion about the strange and wonderful.  I have always had an interest in the weird, the odd, the unusual and the paranormal.  I was fated to be a fan of the X-files as I was of Kolchak -the Night Stalker, which was its predecessor and according to X-file creator, Chris Carter, an inspiration for the series.

I haven’t abandoned my scientific sensibilities and try to look at each of these reported phenomena objectively.  At the same time, I don’t dismiss all paranormal phenomena as bogus hocus pocus and hoaxes, believing instead that where there is smoke, there is fire.  I don’t believe in aliens creating crop circles, for example, as it can easily be done by pranksters.  However, other phenomena may appear strange but may be scientifically verified and explained when properly scrutinised.

To my great satisfaction, two of my favorite strange phenomena from my youth have now been more or less been properly documented and there are now plausible scientific theories to explain them.  These are the phenomena of “spontaneous human combustion”  and “ball lightning”.

Spontaneous human combustion refers to cases where humans are believed to burst into flames such that the bodies are discovered burnt to ashes with the exception of parts of the hands or legs.  However, there maybe minimal damage to the surroundings such as the bed or chair.   An interesting literary  side-note is that Charles Dickens killed off one of his characters, Krook, in Bleak House by this means.

The “wick” theory seems to adequately explain all the different aspects of the phenomena and has been successfully demonstrated using pig carcasses. The theory  basically says that a low grade fire caused by, for example, a cigarette lighting a blanket,  can be fueled by melting body fat.  The blanket may take up the oil and the oil may burn but the blanket would only char just as in a lit candle where the wick does not burn.  In this way, the body is consumed with little damage to the surrounding and the parts of the body with least fat, i.e. hands and legs, are not consumed.

Then there is ball lightning.  Ball lightning have been reported for hundreds of years.  They are basically charged luminous spheres which can move around for short periods.  In some cases, they appear capable of going through surfaces like walls but in other cases they explode on contact. They can kill people in the same way normal lightning can.  One of the earliest well documented case involved a 2.4 m diameter ball of fire that entered a church in Devon, England in 1638 which killed 4 people.

For many centuries, science tended to ignore ball lightning as an unreliably reported phenomena.  There was no theory then that could explain electricity or lightning behaving in this strange manner.  However, many scientists today accept ball lightning as a rare but naturally occurring phenomena and while it is still unclear what really happens in nature, similar glowing spheres have been successfully created in laboratory experiments.

These luminous spheres can be created by discharging a high voltage capacitor in a tank of water; or by using microwaves on certain compounds and objects; or by the oxidising of silicon vapours.  The microwave experiments produce “plasma balls” which adequately demonstrates all the know properties and behavior of ball lightning.

Strangely, one of the things that seems to produce plasma in a microwave is a cut grape (as seen in the video below).  I wonder how that was discovered.  Probably some bored scientist putting everything he/she could find in the kitchen into the microwave for entertainment.  Anyway, don’t try this at home.  Apparently the fumes produce are toxic and the gases can get so heated up that it can shatter glass.  You have been warned.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Anyway, this post is meant to whet your appetite for the strange and unusual cause next week I will share with you one strange X-file that this humble squirrel was indirectly involved in.  Till then. Too doo, too doo, too doo too doo……. (theme from Twilight Zone).

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23 thoughts on “Odd Balls of Fire”

  1. I’ve had hot flashes all my life and when I was 8 or so I read a bunch of articles about spontaneous human combustion. (Apparently it was popular at the time.) I was terrified and thought, “That’s how I’m going to die.” Every time I would have a hot flash, I would think, “This is it, I’m going to burst into flames.” I was very relieved when the whole thing was explained many years later.

  2. “Kolchak” is all new to me. There was a white Russian general Koltchak (however one spells the name) who fought into the 1920 against the red army. He came to dubious fame for “Koltchak’s gloves” … My father once saw a “Kugelblitz”, years later he was still very impressed.
    I think there must have been endless test series while the microwave oven was developed. I wonder where the origins of this device are – wasn’t it nasa? Maybe it it a kind of “urban” story but was a microwave emitting thingy not developed to be used on the moon for baking the ground? This would explain why most ready made dinners taste a bit like moon dust after being nuked …

  3. Why is it that so many things that are invented to make things easier are changed into harmful things? Do we need to go back to no tools and just our bodies to accomplish life style. Thats a little animalistic?

  4. “I have always had an interest in the weird, the odd, the unusual and the paranormal. I was fated to be a fan of the X-files”

    Me too and I have been downloading old X-Files episodes lately and will order Season 3 soon. 🙂
    Those explanations for weird phenomena are really interesting!

  5. Thank you for this post. We are like-minded in this pursuit of the strange and paranormal without losing our sensiblities that science may hold the answer when properly applied. There is still so much we humans do not know of the things around us. I do not lose interest in these things because a plausible theory may have been found, it just offers more interesting questions. ~M

  6. off the subject LGS – sorry

    but I am contemplating moving to WordPress – but having problems with Import – did you have any difficulties? – titles and comments imported but absent text and photos – why would it do such a thing ….. any tips or advice for me, WordPressers?

  7. I’ve had moments where I thought I would spontaneously combust, but it hasn’t happened yet 😉

  8. Dear friends,
    Sorry for the delay in replying to your comments. I was away, deep in the rainforest of northern Borneo for 4 days. But look out for my next post in which I share a bit about my trip.

  9. Geewits,
    Too bad we haven’t yet figured away to harness that energy from “hot flashes” for something useful. You poor thing though, growing up with the fear of death from the fire within.

    Mago,
    Again I learn much from your comments. Now I know of Admiral Kolchak’s fame and also infamy. And also about Kugelblitz which interestingly must have been well accepted in Germany since an anti-aircraft gun was named after it as well. It was also interesting to learn that your father had a first hand experience of it. Secret Agent Woman says in her comment that her mom also had a very personal encounter with kugelblitz.

  10. Mark,
    I dunno about plasmic wine but if you listen to the video carefully, there is a sort of “plasmic whine”. Okay, it’s more of a buzz but that wouldn’t be punny.

    Joyce,
    We may have the intelligence to create modern appliances and tools but perhaps we lack the wisdom to use them without inflicting injury to self.

  11. Pauline,
    Do you know where I can get an “Autopsy Scully” action figure? 🙂

    Melanie,
    Sometimes it is the pursuit of truth that is more exciting than the discovery of the truth. The thrill is in the chase!

  12. Mr. Charleston,
    It is inquisitive minds like that which leads us down the path of plasmic power arms race. And after the grapefruit, what next? 🙂

    kat,
    I had some problems during the import process. Specifically, it did not import most of my older post’s comments section. Whatever your problems are though, you could check out “wordpress support” which is quite thorough and easy to read or write your query in their “Forum” to which their tech people and other wordpress users are usually quick to give an answer.

  13. Riot Kitty,
    Sounds like work stress!

    Laura,
    Patience……..the truth (slightly embellished) is coming soon.

    Secret agent,
    One has so many questions. Like what was the weather conditions like at that time? Did the ball lightning just appear or did it emerge out of a wall or other surface? What did your mom feel? Wow.

  14. This is the first time I’ve ever been able to comment on your blog! I assume it had something to do with your email to me and if I was more computer literate, I’d know how to keep it going.

    I wish spontaneous combustion really existed and it was fired from within, by people with hateful hearts and wishes. There’d be a huge explosion in Indiana and I’d be FREE in Florida.

  15. dana,
    Yes, that would be a nice way for spontaneous combustion to work but sadly it doesn’t. However, I believe hate does shorten lives. So let’s not get caught in their hate huddles and instead enjoy a long life……….or……..or we could send Florida grapefruits with instructions to place in the microwave!!!!!!
    No,no……breathe deeply.

  16. As a kid, I was initially attracted to science topics by such strange phenomena as UFOs and other mysterious things. So this post is right up my alley 🙂 And anyone who brings up Kolchak is A-OK in my book!

  17. Watching Seasons,
    Thanks for coming by and leaving a comment. I hope you will not be a stranger here. So good to meet someone who even knows about Kolchak! I went to your blog too. It is a beautiful blog with great subject matter and pictures.

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