3D Model for “Ball Lightning” Could Also Advance Development of Fusion Reactors
Accounts of the mysterious weather occurrence known as “ball lightning” have been documented throughout human history, but it wasn’t until the 1960’s that scientists began looking deeper into the phenomenon. Preceded by thunderstorms, ball lightning is characterized by grapefruit-sized orbs of light which seemingly float through walls. On Friday, scientists from Amherst College and Aalto University announced a possible explanation behind ball lightning.
Scientists previously speculated that ball lightning results from tangled streams of electric currents which create electromagnetic knots. Dr. Mikko Möttönen and Professor David Hall were able to create a quantum model of this entanglement using supercooled dilute quantum gas.
When cooled to near absolute zero temperatures, the gaseous atoms settle into states of minimal energy, causing them to behave as a single, giant atom instead of individual ones.
The experiment begins with applying an initial magnetic field to the condensate which makes atoms spin uniformly in alignment. However, when the magnetic field is suddenly shifted, atoms in different regions of the condensate spin in a variety of directions and become “entangled.”
What’s intriguing is that this entanglement is more than a quantum knot. It is a 3D skyrmion, a structure theorized over 40 years ago but realized for the first time in this experiment. While the interlinked loops of the skyrmion can be loosened and adjusted, they can never be untied.
Professor Hall explains: “What makes this a skyrmion rather than a quantum knot is that not only does the spin twist, but the quantum phase of the condensate winds repeatedly.”
Remarkably, the magnetic field of the 3D skyrmion is similar to the field generated by ball lightning. However, Dr. Möttönen clarifies that “more research is needed to know whether or not it is also possible to create real ball lightning with a method of this kind.”
Along with providing a glimpse into the workings of ball lightning, the skyrmion will play a major role in fusion reactor development. According to Möttönen, a closer look at the skyrmions stability as a ball of plasma “could lead to finding a solution to keep plasma together efficiently and enable more stable fusion reactors than we have now.”