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Nanoparticle production in arc generated fireballs of granular silicon powder
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Recently we observed buoyant fireballs by arc igniting silicon that drift in air for several seconds and postulated that the low aggregate density was attributed to the formation of a network of nanoparticles that must completely surround the burning silicon core, trapping the heated vapor generated as a result of particle combustion [Ito et al. Phys Rev E 80, 067401 (2009)]. In this paper, we describe the capturing of several of these fireballs in flight, and have characterized their nanostructure by high resolution microscopy. The nanoparticle network is found to have an unusually high porosity (> 99%), suggesting that this arc-ignition of silicon can be a novel method of producing ultra-porous silica. While we confirm the presence of a nanoparticle network within the fireballs, the extension of this mechanism to the production of ball lightning during atmospheric lightning strikes in nature is still the subject of ongoing debate.
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