Ball Lightning Gallery

Melbourne, Australia, 1st February. 2002.

Full width 35mm frame, Nikon F3, 35-105 lens at 50mm, Exp. F5.6, approx. 3min approx., Fuji Velvia 50 ASA.

The Ball Lightning was captured in the first frame of a series of five 'time exposures' (see below). Unlike the instantaneous flash of ordinary lightning the spherical ball of light has been recorded as a streak of light as it moved and descended during the exposure.

Five 'time exposures' each about 3 minutes or more were taken, with the first frame only capturing the brief Ball Lightning. The camera was set to auto with aperture priority providing slightly varying duration in exposures according to the ambient amount of light for each exposure. The duration of the BL (while visible to me) was about 7 - 10 seconds and occurred near the end of the exposure of the first frame. I visually watched it seemingly hover at first and then until it descended behind the ridge on the horizon. Up to that point it had covered a distance of 2 - 3 km and had descended from about 1,400 feet AMSL. Finding other witnesses in its path revealed that it had travelled about 12 km in total. The total duration of the BL event was about 45 seconds.

My attention was drawn to it as it grew in brightness over about 2 seconds. At first it appeared to be hovering or moving very slowly for another 2 - 3 sec. It then descended (for 4 - 5 sec.) to the horizon at an estimated constant speed of 720 KPH and at about a 45 degree angle (see data/map BL Info 3). What really surprised me was the way it seemed to jump to a constant or steady descending speed rather than gradually accelerate.

It had the brightness of a fire but it's rapid flashing or pulsing of colour between white, yellow, orange and red gave the appearance of something very strange. At the distance of 22km it was hard to see much detail but I could see a flickering of red / yellow and perhaps white light which appeared to flash around the larger sphere which seemed overall to be a very bright orange.

My thoughts at that time were firstly that it was a plane engulfed in fire. As it descended I recalled having seen something similar on rare previous occasions. In recent years I had learnt a little about Ball Lightning but mostly about small low to ground events or those occurring inside buildings. I instantly made a connection with my previous sightings and thought to myself that this is what it might be if it was not a plane or something else. I've seen three very similar orange lights before in Melbourne, all during thunderstorms or at least when there was a storm some distance away. The first one was when I was about 9-10 years old when I observed it diving in a similar way over the Watsonia area, viewed from Kew (a Melbourne suburb). The second one was over Port Phillip Bay c1980's. The third from Kangaroo Ground c2000 looking toward Wattle Glen. There was definitely no lightning nearby in the Wattle Glen event as the nearest storm was about 100km away at the time. All BL's were about the same frustrating distance away at about 10 to 20 kms and they behaved very similar to the one I have photographed. After viewing the processed transparency I felt I had to find other witnesses to validate and hopefully elaborate more about it. In fact , I was expecting to hear about it on the news but there was nothing reported. At least I knew then that it was not a plane crashing.

The light at the end of the B.L. arc / streak is a street light and not associated with the B.L. The central core of the ball lightning was very bright like that of fire or lightning and was surrounded by a red / orange corona. Its movement during the exposure has created a streak similar to the way star trails are recorded in long 'timeexposures'. To the eye at the time the Ball Lightning appeared very large such as the size of a building as opposed to the street lights which appeared very much smaller.

The actual length of the B.L. streak on the film is only about one millimetre.

Although the Cloud to Ground (CG) lightning bolt and the BL appear to overlap it is difficult to determine with certainty that there is a connection between them. Some scientists think they may not be related however some do and that it would accord with a 'vortex' theory. I tend to think they are related rather than coincidence in apparent proximity.

The two events (the CG lightning bolt and the Ball Lightning) occured moments apart. It is possible that they may be seperated by some distance in line of sight. I observed the ball as it brightened and believe the CG lightning occured just moments before the ball appeared. I am sure it did not occur after the ball appeared. However given their apparent close proximity it seems likely to me that they would be connected.

Once the ball appeared it seemed to be hovering motionless for a few seconds. An apparently 'pulsing' light at the core can be seen as it travelled downwards from left to right during the exposure.The velocity of the descending BL was 720 kph or more (by est. of time period/distance).

The faintness of the CG lightning in the photo is due to rain. Also, the result of 'reciprocity failure' is such that very faint or dim light sources may not register at all on the film. Hence the discontinuous gaps in the lightning. Adequately exposed areas on film show little or no grain, hence the difference in texture between the dim background and strongly exposed areas.

The overall color appeared to be a flickering orange / red. But the image on film reveals there was a bright yellow central core.

A green tinge in the atmosphere around the area of the lightning is due to artificial light illuminating rain and cloud. The film used was 'daylight type' Fuji Velvia 50ASA. which is paticularly affected by artificial light and very long exposures. I have applied adjustments to some of the images to to neutralise the false green color.To the eye the color of the lightning varied between blue purple to rose red as recorded by the film.

Ball Lightning, Melbourne, Australia.

1st Febrary 2002 (approx. 9 PM EDT)

Cloud Base : Variable 5,000 to 7,000 feet AMSL.

Max Height of BL : 1,400 feet AMSL approx.

Distance from camera to BL : 22 to 25 kilometres.

Diameter of BL outer corona : Up to 40 - 45 metres but uncertain.

Descent velocity after initially hovering : 720+ kph.

Duration observed before descending out of view : 7 to 10 seconds.

Total Duration of BL event : Approx. 45 seconds

Distance traversed by the BL : About 12 km.

Commencing near : Lat. 37deg 52' 46" Long. 145deg 11' 23".

Diameter of leading yellow 'core' sphere at end of event : About 1 metre.


Most of the 'detail' Ball Lightning images appearing above were scanned on 11,000 DPI Linotype-Hell drum scanner at maximum magnification to either A4 or A3 where possible. Higher (interpolated) enlargements were performed in Photoshop - resizing smaller sections again up to A4. Optimised JPG files were then made for use on this web site. Some contrast banding is a result of very fine shifts in graduated areas. All images are available for print reproduction in A4 / A3 300 DPI TIFF format on CD.

'Softer' Scanning - below

Below are 2 scans made on 3,200 DPI Imacon Flextight Photo scanner. Although much softer with less grain detail they perhaps portray a better representation of the surrounding corona 'haze'. The detailed edging as seen in the Linotype scans is perhaps more an artifact effect from extreme grain enlargement, reciprocity failure and contrast adjustments.

Click on images for larger versions

Sequence of the Ball Lightning Storm, 1st Feb. 2002, Melbourne, Victoria.
Below are all of the successful lightning frames taken in the course of this storm and are in sequence as taken. The first two images were taken just after sunset. Shortly afterwards I was enveloped in heavy rain / thunder and I had to take shelter. About half an hour later I resumed my position (in a field opposite my house) as the next cell which produced the BL rolled past. I was again washed out and took shelter. Lightning was then so intense above and all around as to be a continuous flickering, at times perhaps 4 - 5 flashes per second. The last frame was in this final intense period and taken from my roof. The air felt full of electricity (not to mention heavy rain) and it was too dangerous to be standing on a tin roof so I retreated.

'Melbourne Storm Chasers' reports on this nights events can be seen here - - and are of great interest. However it seems that the only observations that can be found of the Ball Lightning were by myself and seven other people as described in BL Info 2.

202_001 202_002 202_003 202_004
202_005 202_006 202_007 202_008

'Artistic' Impressions (simulated imagery) below

Reconstructed image (below) as seen from my observation before the first impact

and from the observation by Joe Stanley - between first and second impact.

Left : A recreated image to demonstrate how the Ball Lightning roughly appeared as a sphere to the eye to me. It pulsated yellow / orange / red color in a very rapid flame like manner, perhaps all over. From a distance of 22km it was difficult to see much detail with the unaided eye but it looked like an almost un-natural thing, particularly when it was travelling very fast after being stationary. There was no apparent acceleration. It began to just suddenly dive at a constant speed of around 720 km/hr. It actually sent a chill up my spine as if I'd just seen something magical or supernatural.

Going by the camera image the core of the ball was yellow / white at least most of the time however, to the eye, rapid pulsing of colors appeared to extend to the outer corona creating predomininently orange colour - bright, like a setting sun. An unstable wobbling was also evident, rather like flame or the elastic nature of a heavy soap bubble. This shape changing was more clearly seen by Joe Stanley following the first impact where it was seen as four joined spheres. See below.

Simulated animation

Right : Image created in Photoshop based on the observation by Joe Stanley. A thin yellow tinge around the first sphere was noted. It also "appeared to be changing shape". See full description BL Info 2
Joe Stanley's observation was from the south looking N/E. The BL was thus travelling from right to left to him.
"Accompanying the flash almost simultaneously I saw lightning of a yellow / orange / gold colour composed of what appeared as spheres with some interconnecting colour to give almost the impression of part of a necklace or string of beads. I recall seeing four spheres in the streak. Of the four balls the first two appeared to be both larger, brighter and more coloured".

Joe Stanley


BL MAIN HOME PAGE.......Introduction page.

BL GALLERY ......Ball Lightning photo - Melbourne, 1st Feb. 2002.

BL Info 1..........RADAR, WEATHER, Camera/ Film type. Scanning.

BL Info 2..........WITNESS ACCOUNTS, Melbourne BL Photo, 1/2/02.

BL Info 3..........MAP, ELEVATION and SEQUENCE of Melbourne BL 1/2/02.

BL Info 4..........Other BL reports Melbourne & Australia, 2001 - 2002.

BL Info 5..........Historical Victorian / Australian BL accounts

BL Info 6..........The 1902 Victorian Fireball / Dust Storms

BL Info 7..........More about Ball Lighting

BL Info 8..........Other Photographers Ball Lightning Photos Gallery

BL Info 9..........Feedback about the 1st Feb 2002 event.

BL Info 10........Global Ball Lightning Accounts ( some past world-wide events )

BL Info 11........Earthquake / Volcanic Activity Connections ?

BL Info 12........A mysterious event, Melbourne, 2nd Feb 2005.

BL Info 13........2003 Ball Lightning reports for Australia

BL Info 14........2004 Ball Lightning events (Australia & International)

BL Info 15........2005 Ball Lightning events (Australia & International)

LINKS................Ball Lightning and other Lightning related web sites.

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