Mass spectrometry of atmospheric-pressure ball plasmoids

Scott E. Dubowsky, David M. Friday, Kevin C. Peters, Zhangji Zhao, Richard H. Perry, Benjamin J. McCall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ball lightning is a naturally occurring atmospheric event that has perplexed researchers for centuries, and there is to date no complete explanation (chemical, physical, or otherwise) as to why ball lightning behaves the way that it does. There has been considerable effort to try to both produce and measure the properties of ball lightning type discharges over recent years, and this collected work has begun to reveal some interesting physical and chemical phenomena. We are able to produce water-based plasma ball discharges using high-voltage equipment, and these self-contained plasmoids are considered to be similar to natural ball lightning. In this article we present the first mass spectrometric analysis of water-based ambient ball plasmoids. Using an extremely simple sampling technique, we were able to detect several chemical species within the interior of the plasmoid. Several molecules that are common to plasmas generated in air were observed in the mass spectra, such as [NO2]+ and [NO3]+. More interestingly, we observed the protonated water clusters [(H2O)2H]+ and [(H2O)3H]+, ammonia (NH3) as a component of a copper cluster, and several anions. Furthermore, many species observed in the mass spectra are in the form of hydrated clusters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-45
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Mass Spectrometry
StatePublished - Jan 15 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Ambient ionization
  • Ball lightning
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Plasma
  • Plasmoid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Instrumentation
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Spectroscopy
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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