My interest in ball lightning dates back 40 years. When I was a physics student, I traveled around Australia as a backpacker, staying in youth hostels. The place I liked most was called “Lost World Youth Hostel”, close to Lamington National park in southern Queensland. It was there that I bought a book called “Green Mountains” by Bernard O’Reilly (1962), describing the search for the survivors of a plane crash in 1937, near the location of the youth hostel, and the pioneer’s life in the rain forest on the border ranges between Queensland and New South Wales. Bernard was obviously a brilliant observer of nature, and he gave accounts of many interesting events, including the total solar eclipse of September 1922. In these mountains, in November of the same year, he witnessed what he called an “electric thunderstorm”, which produced a considerable number of BL objects: luminous balls, glowing in a deep red, like the embers of a log fire. When I read this account, I immediately got hooked on these mysterious objects, which I had previously regarded as extremely rare oddities. However, this report quite convincingly showed that, under the right conditions, ball lightning events can be produced in quite large numbers. This suggests that it may be possible to generate such objects in the laboratory, giving a real chance to study their properties in detail. Back at university, I talked to my professor, who told me immediately that it would be much more worthwhile to concentrate on my PhD thesis than such exotic stuff. Well, I followed his advice (or request, I should say) but I never forgot about Bernard O’Reilly’s account.
- O'Reilly, B. (1962) Green Mountains and Cullenbenbong, Qld. Book DepotGoogle Scholar