Bizarre Quantum Skyrmion solves the centuries-old mystery of ball lightning


Scientists bound the magnetic fields of a supercooled quantum object into a complex knot. And what they found may have finally solved the centuries-old riddle of ball lightning, luminous orbs that sometimes linger in the atmosphere during thunderstorms. That bizarre knot is a quantum object called a “Shankar skyrmion” that was first theorized in 1977, but that no one had ever managed to generate in a lab.

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The ball lightning phenomenon erupting in front of baffled onlookers. via Wikipedia

A skyrmion is a tightly clustered group of circular magnetic fields, with each circle crossing each other circle exactly once. Now think about what happens when you hook one key ring around another key ring. Then imagine adding more and more rings, hooking each new one to all the existing rings. The resulting shape would look like the magnetic fields of the skyrmion — impossible to pull apart without breaking the rings.

But the skyrmion is different from those key rings in a critical way: It’s twisted. The interlocking lines of magnetism turn along their routes, twice. If you flew a tiny atom-exploring spaceship along one, you’d do two corkscrews over the length of the circuit.

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Interlocking magnetic fields of the skyrmion in a lab. via Science

For the first time ever, the researchers built the skyrmion out of a cloud of atoms supercooled into a dense blob called a “Bose-Einstein condensate” — a state of matter that emerges just at the edge of absolute zero, where the borders between atoms blend together, and quantum effects start to take place at a scale humans can more easily detect and observe.

Using techniques developed to build an exotic class of quantum magnet, the researchers nudged the spins, or magnetic orientations, of the atoms in the condensate until the interlocking rings of the skyrmion emerged.

That’s when it became clear that the skyrmion might be a good model for ball lightning.

Skyrmion and ball lightning

Ball lightning is a rare and poorly understood weather phenomenon where a colorful glowing orb forms — usually during a thunderstorm — and appears to skitter through the air, far outliving the jagged bolt of lightning people are used to.

Back in 1996, another scientific paper proposed that ball lightning might be the result of the magnetic fields around the plasma of a lightning bolt curling into a knot and trapping it within, and proposed a model for what those knotted fields might look like.

The researchers reported that the fields they observed around their cold little skyrmion matched the model proposed in that paper, suggesting that hot ball lightning may, in fact, be a giant, naturally occurring skyrmion.

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Science, Nature, Live Science


  1. A long long time ago , in a land so.far.away was a teeny tiny seven months old baby in mi MA, S belly. My parents went camping in the mountains in late August. They didn’t realize that the Hurricane storm had weakened to a strong tropical depression and was heading there way! They went to sleep that night in a tent – at 3 a. m. The tent collapsed from the weight of the snow They went back to the VW van In blizzard conditions. Pops had to hike back on the road 8 miles to go get help from the ranger station in thunder snow blizzard conditions. Meanwhile my mom and me were all alone in the van………..—‘-or.were we ? Then my mother saw all kinds of weird thunder snow and lightning. Then one wait! 2 no five Ball lightning orbs floating around over the meadows and forests a mile away. Then one of the ball lightning orbs gobbled up the other ones and next it BAMMED! Slamming into a group of trees ? Yes 80 foot tall trees flying into the air while burning on fire in a thunder snow storm. The snow level went to 4-5 feet against the van my pops, had to walk in that in summer clothes to go for help. I would always bug my mom to retell such stories she said the ball lightning orbs looked like UFO, S at night floating all over the place crossing over and into each other. In the daytime they looked liked orbs and when they hit the ground rocks or trees it went to ground then a very large noise and the vans Windows shook. Dad found help the large forest ranger snow plow trucks went up the campsite road to rescue me and my mom NINE hours later!

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  2. This article might be different than orbs appearing around us. But if you take a video or take a picture, it is great chance that orbs are in the images. Some orbs are small. Some of them are big. Some of them are brighter than others. My eldest son saw a bright orb came out his room when he was about to enter his room in December 21, 2011 when many articles said we were going for ascension.

    The following video is an interesting video.

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