"The Maser-Soliton Theory is supported by three well-known facts. First, ball lightning never occurs on sharp mountain peaks, high-rise buildings and other high points that attract lightning and that are used for lightning research by specialists in atmospheric electricity. (Lightning researcher Karl Berger told me he spent his life registering and measuring hundreds of thousands of lightning discharges hitting his laboratory on top of Mount Salvatore in Lugano, Italy, without getting a trace of ball lightning.) The inability to observe ball lightning in such settings has led to widespread frustration and even skepticism about the reality of the phenomenon. But in fact, the field pulse of the lightning striking high, peaked objects is localized in a narrow cone that encloses a relatively small volume. According to the Maser-Soliton Theory, this environment precludes the maser effect. On the other hand, when lightning strikes the flatlands, the resulting field pulse is huge: about 10 kilometers wide and three kilometers high. Ball lightning thus keeps its secrets: it visits the farmer and avoids the scientist!
"Second, ball lightning is harmless inside airplanes and submarines or in homes that have a conducting frame. Again according to the Maser-Soliton Theory, the energy of the maser in such settings is limited to about 10 joules (contrasted to a limit of 109 to 1010 joules in the open air), too little to be dangerous to life.
"And third, open-air ball lightning often ends with a violent explosion, sometimes causing extensive damage. The explosion is particularly strange because it violently displaces conducting objects to a larger degree than dielectrics. For instance, electric connection boxes are sometimes extracted from within the walls of houses by outdoor ball lightning and thrown in the middle of the street. The Maser-Soliton Theory predicts that such spiking would occur when the load suddenly disappears. (When the discharge that was consuming the photons generated by the maser suddenly disappears, these photons get to live longer and to multiply instantly, unbounded by the maser effect. This proliferation triggers an even larger instantaneous avalanche of photons and a practically instantaneous exponential growth of the electrical field. The increase occurs too rapidly to cause electric breakdown or heating but could cause very large ' ponderomotive forces'--mechanical effects that can tear apart composite objects having varied dielectric constants.)
"The pioneering UHF discharge ball-lightning experiments of Ohtsuki and Ofuruton in Japan (Y. H. Ohtsuki and H. Ofuruton, 'Plasma Fireballs Formed by Microwave Interference In Air' in Nature Vol. 350 (1991), page 139) and the above-mentioned research at Kurchatov in Moscow (V. A. Zhil' tsov, C9. A. Manykin, E. A. Petrenko; and A. A. Skovoroda, J. F. Leitner and P. H. Handel, 'Spatially Localized Microwave Discharge in the Atmosphere,' in JETP Vol. 81  ,pp. 1072-81) have aided in the solution of the ball-lightning enigma. Now that we seem to understand the true nature of ball lightning, it is particularly unfortunate that no funds are available in the U.S. for the study and the controlled reproduction of this fascinating phenomenon.
"A focal point for ball-lightning research will be the Fifth International Symposium on Ball Lightning on August 26-29, 1997, organized by Y. H. Ohtsuki and H. Ofuruton from Tokyo Metropolitan College of Aeronautical Engineering (for information, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org). I will be the U.S. ball-lightning representative on the International Committee; I can be contacted at email@example.com"
The scientific community is increasingly convinced that ball lightning is a real phenomenon (although there remain some skeptics). What could cause ball lightning, on the other hand, is a source of steady controversy. Earlier, we ran the above theory. John Lowke, a plasma physicist at the Institute of Industrial Technologies, CSIRO, in Australia, offers another theory about the phenomenon: