Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Peter H. Handel, PhD


Peacher, Jerry L.

Wilking, Bruce A.

Hale, Barbara N.

Harris, Harold H.


This dissertation develops details of Handel’s Maser-Soliton Theory of ball lightning. The atmosphere between a thundercloud and the Earth’s surface is modeled as an idealized stable open resonator with water vapor as the active medium and the thundercloud and Earth’s surface as reflecting surfaces. The stable resonator generates a maser beam that narrows to the beam waist at the Earth’s surface, which is assumed to be planar. Two candidate rotational transitions are identified within the v1v2v3 = 010 vibrational band of water having wavelengths of 13.9 cm and 1.12 cm, and relevant spectroscopic parameters are retrieved from the HITRAN 2008 molecular spectroscopic database. The maser is modeled as a continuously pumped four-level maser that includes the effects of nonradiative relaxation due to molecular collisions and of microwave absorption in atmospheric oxygen. Since maser spiking is highly unlikely to occur due to the high rate of collisional relaxation at normal atmospheric pressure, the electrical breakdown of air must be achieved by the steady state output of the atmospheric maser. A parametric analysis is performed to relate the size of the atmospheric maser to the pumping rate needed to create a steady state population inversion sufficient to generate maser radiation intense enough at the beam waist to result in the electrical breakdown of air. The analysis suggests that electric field intensities at the beam waist sufficient to cause electrical breakdown of air could only be created through huge pumping rates (~105 to 107 times the critical pumping rate) and only for the most highly curved clouds (g ≈ 0) that give the narrowest beam waists.

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