From The Economist to lightning balls to 1930s comics to World War 2 fighter pilots to UFOs to Dave Grohl to the Foo Fighters

I recently read an unusual article in The Economist about a controversial phenomenon known as ball lightning. Basically ball lightning is a rare and unpredictable phenomenon where lightning forms a glowing ball which can persist and move around for several seconds rather than the normal flash.

Ball lightning appears to be inconsistent in color (pale blue, yellow, green, red and white), size (pea sized to several meters) and behavior (dropping form the sky, moving along the ground, and sometimes nailing people).

Yeah it sounds like bull, but they have been seen thousands of times by thousands of witnesses over the last few centuries. Several scientific groups are working on explaining ball lightning. Hell, even The Economist (normally very skeptical) has written a detailed article about the studies attempting to explain them.

Wikipedia has a detailed article on lightning balls which mentions that they were often sighted by fighter pilots during World War 2. Now we need a little aside: early in the war poorly trained Japanese pilots often flew erratic trajectories and the Allied pilots developed a derogatory term for them – foo fighters. The name came from a comic strip popular at the time, Smokey Stover, which often made use of the nonsense word foo.

So when the pilots repeatedly saw the erratically moving balls of fire they became known as foo fighters. Because lightning balls (foo fighters) were/are largely unexplained a lot of people think that they are UFOs (rubbish). Someone who is fascinated by UFOs is Dave Grohl who therefore chose the name for his band the Foo Fighters.

It’s like the whole 6 degrees idea but for concepts instead of people. Awesome.