A video showing a ball of white fire moving over a train track has intrigued users on social networks, provoking speculation about a rare natural phenomenon, or something science cannot explain. The video, which shows the fireball levitating over the tracks and sending off giant sparks, was in fact posted by a user of a Russian content-sharing site who wanted to show off his special effects skills.
Shared widely on Facebook, the 24-second video has been seen more than a milion times. Some users cited it as an example of St. Elmo's Fire, when plasma glows during a strong electrical field caused by a natural event like a thunderstorm. Others suggested it could be ball lightning, a rare form of lightning that has been reported for centuries but never scientifically proven. Others jokingly wondered whether it was something out of the Tintin book "The Seven Crystal Balls." The video has also been circulating on TikTok, the popular video-sharing site.
This Facebook post from Jan.7, 2020 gives the following explanation for the video (in French): "Ball lightning, or fireball, is a rare meteorological phenomenon... Very little is known about the phenomenon."
How do we know it's fake?
Using the video search tool InVid (see how to install it) and the image search Yandex, we were able to find the original video on the Russian content-sharing platform Pikabu.ru, with an explanation from the user who posted it.
The user, itchyskratchy, wrote in Russian:
The aim was to simulate a smartphone video, with all its problems: noise, distortion, shaking. It was complicated: it's very hard to find suitable videos showing real ball lightning in nature. The ones you can find are of mediocre quality. It's hard to make a realistic video when you don't have anything real to compare it with.
The video is tagged "VFX" (video effects) and "Adobe After Effects."
The Pikabu post links to the original video on YouTube, posted in May 2019 by user Andrei Trukhovonets. He clearly identifies it in the title as "CGI," computer-generated imagery.
The original poster of the video labeled it as "CGI" on YouTube.
In the comments, the user Trukhovonets replied to queries about the video:
This video was created when I was beginning to create special effects. It is full of errors, and I think if people look closely they should be able to see them. Let me say this: your life will be full of magic and miracles if you don't learn physics at school.