SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A mysterious glowing ball of light traveling 1/100th the speed of light has been spotted and videotaped in the earth's upper atmosphere, but what it is has scientists puzzled.
Brief footage of the image, which appeared for about 3/100th of a second at an estimated height of 80 kilometers, was presented publicly for the first time Monday Dec 16 at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
In a six-frame sequence, the object can clearly be seen crossing upwards and left across the field of view, while retaining its shape and intense glow.
"It's the first and only event of this kind photographed to my knowledge," said Dr. Dean A. Morss, assistant professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Creighton University in Nebraska. Morss is heading a research project designed to videotape luminous electrical phenomena, called sprites, in the upper atmosphere.
Scientists were observing a region of thunderstorm activity in western Kansas from a ground observation point in Nebraska when the mystery ball appeared. Navy Lt. Paul McCrone, a graduate student at Creighton, videotaped the image on August 22, using equipment on loan to the university from Los Alamos National Laboratory.
"It's clearly something that does not have any mass. The angular speed is too fast to be anything at orbital velocity," said Morris B. Pongratz, a scientist with Los Alamos National Laboratory who has examined the tape. "This guy is clearly moving."
Morss and his colleagues maintain the ball's tremendous speed and apparent lack of mass eliminate many commonly proffered explanations for unknown objects sighted in the atmosphere.
"People are seeing new forms, new shapes, all sorts of new phenomena," Morss said. "It's not traditional meteorology."
Original file name: CNI - Ball of Light Mystery
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