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Great balls of fire

Chemists at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, think they know what causes the mysterious glowing balls that sometimes float about during thunderstorms.

John Abrahamson and James Dinniss explain in today's issue of Nature that lightning can stir up microscopic particles of silicone and silicone compounds and charge them with chemical energy. They suggest that a filamentary network of these aerosols then rises into the air. The particles oxidize and release their stored energy as light and heat. They report that experiments exposing soil samples to a lightninglike discharge produced aggregates of such particles that oxidized "at a rate appropriate for explaining the lifetime of ball lightning."

Robert C. Cowen

Am too. Am not

KATHMANDU, NEPAL - Nepal recently rejected National Geographic's new measurement of Mt. Everest that put the world's tallest mountain two meters (seven feet) above what has been officially accepted for 45 years.

"The current altitude of 8,848 meters [29,028 feet] should be accepted as the official height of Everest," a government statement said.

Last year, an expedition by the National Geographic Society and Boston's Museum of Science used sophisticated satellite systems to measure Everest at 8,850 meters (29,035 feet). The National Geographic Society said it would accept the new elevation and update its map of the mountain.

"It is necessary to analyze the technical aspects of the study, and the work has already been started by the [Nepali] survey department," the ministry of land reforms and management said in a statement.

The official height was measured by the Survey of India in 1954. The Boston researchers measured the height of the snow-covered peak, but said they were unsure what the height of the rock peak was. They also said that the mountain was migrating northeast at a speed of six centimeters (two inches) a year.

Compiled from the wires

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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