Knotted structures called skyrmions seem to mimic ball lightning | Science News

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Knotted structures called skyrmions seem to mimic ball lightning

A new type of skyrmion simulates linked magnetic fields that may hold glowing orbs together, too

By
2:00pm, March 2, 2018
skyrmion illustration

GREAT BALL OF FIRE  Scientists created a knotted structure called a skyrmion (illustrated) that mimics the magnetic fields described in a proposed theory of ball lightning, electrical orbs sometimes observed during thunderstorms.

The physics behind a weird electrical phenomenon — glowing orbs of lightning — may be mimicked by something even stranger. A magnetic structure proposed for the natural oddity known as ball lightning makes an appearance in a newfound variety of a knotlike entity called a skyrmion, a team of scientists reports.

Typically observed during thunderstorms, ball lightning is poorly understood. Anecdotal reports describe eerily glowing spheres that float through the air for several seconds before fading (SN: 2/9/02, p. 87). That’s much longer than standard lightning strikes, which last tens of microseconds, and researchers are still struggling to explain how the fireballs persist.

One theory, proposed in the 1990s, suggests that ball lightning is a plasma held together by magnetic fields arranged in rings that link together

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