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No. 58: Jul-Aug 1988

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Ball lightning or mirage of venus?

In SF#56, S. Campbell explained a potential UFO sighting in terms of a mirage of a jet landing at Edinburgh. Now he interprets a Russian ball lightning report as a mirage of Venus on the horizon. See what you think:

"Dr. Aleksandr Mitrofanov of the Institute of Physical Problems (sic) of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. and two friends were camping on the left bank of the River Oka near Ryazan (at a point where the river makes a sharp bend to the east) on the 23rd July 1974. It had been a clear day, very hot in the afternoon. Together with Muscovites from another encampment they sat up talking and drinking tea (sic) until late in the evening (in fact until early the next morning). At 2:10 a.m. they all saw a light which at first they thought was a torch. It appeared to be 70 metres away in the undergrowth along the bank. As they all stood up the 'ball lightning' (which iswhat Mitrofanov thought it was) seemed to 'float up' from behind the bushes and move straight towards them, increasing in size. But it did not reach them; it slowly 'swam' horizontally before disappearing after 4 minutes. When it seemed to be at its nearest a ring detached itself, like the ripple of water when a stone is thrown into water. The ring vanished as it expanded, but was followed by a second ring, less bright than the first. Before it vanished the ball took on a pear shape. Just after it vanished the sky in that direction, for about 10 of azimuth, became reddish and lighter than the rest of the sky to the north. This illumination lasted no longer than half a minute. The 'ball' had made no sound and there were no traces or smell remaining. Mitrofanov did not mention hearing thunder or seeing lightning."

(Campbell, Steuart; "Russian Accounts of Ball Lightning," Journal of Meteorology, U.K., 13:126, 1988. Journal address: 54 Frome Road, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, England, BA15 1LD.)

Reference. A wide variety of ball lightning phenomena appear in GLB1 in our catalog: Lightning, Auroras. See details here.

Luminous phenomenon (ball lightning) Luminous phenomenon reported by Mitrofanov. The "ball lightning" seems to be positioned in front of some trees and, therefore, probably not a mirage of a celestial object.

From Science Frontiers #58, JUL-AUG 1988. 1988-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987