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ball lightning

noun
1.
a rare form of lightning, consisting of a bright, luminous ball that moves rapidly along objects or floats in the air.
Also called globe lightning.
Origin
1855-1860
1855-60
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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British Dictionary definitions for ball-lightning

ball lightning

noun
1.
(meteorol) a luminous electrically charged ball occasionally seen during electrical storms
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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ball-lightning in Science
ball lightning  
A rare form of lightning in the shape of a glowing red ball, associated with thunderstorms and sometimes accompanied by a loud noise. Ball lightning is thought to consist of ionized gas.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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Encyclopedia Article for ball-lightning

ball lightning

a rare aerial phenomenon in the form of a luminous sphere that is generally several centimetres in diameter. It usually occurs near the ground during thunderstorms, in close association with cloud-to-ground lightning. It may be red, orange, yellow, white, or blue in colour and is often accompanied by a hissing sound and distinct odour. It normally lasts only a few seconds, usually moving about and then vanishing suddenly, either silently or explosively. Ball lightning has been reported to cause damage by burning or melting but is usually harmless. Its causes and its relation to common lightning are not known, but among the suggested explanations are: air or gas behaving abnormally, high-density plasma phenomena, an air vortex containing luminous gases, and microwave radiation trapped within a plasma bubble. Sometimes bead lightning is mistaken for ball lightning. Bead lightning is most apparent when the current in a cloud-to-ground flash persists for an appreciable fraction of a second. In these cases, the luminosity also persists and the channel may have regions of enhanced luminosity that resemble a string of beads.

Learn more about ball lightning with a free trial on Britannica.com
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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