Also known as lightning balls, plasma globes, or plasma lamps, plasma
balls were one of the coolest home accessories of the 80s. (And they’re
still pretty bitchin’ in my book.) A plasma ball is a clear glass sphere
filled with low density noble gases. Inside the ball is an electrode
that causes the gases to glow in flowing streaks of colored light. When
you touch the surface of the ball, lightning bolts run from the
electrode to the point of contact. RADICAL.
The basic idea for the plasma ball was patented by Nikola Tesla in 1894.
It was called the Incandescent Electric Light, and Tesla used it to
study high voltage phenomena. And impress his friends, I’m sure.
However, Bill Parker, while a student at MIT in 1970, invented the trippy
modern fixture we know today. Plasma balls grew in popularity through
the 80s and are still sold today. You might have owned or seen an “Eye
of the Storm” plasma ball sold by Rabbit Systems at stores such as
Here’s an awesome assortment of plasma balls in action:
And a more modern but way cool commercial for the Ford Focus that features
an enormous plasma ball:
Factoid: You can hold a fluorescent light bulb up to a plasma ball and it
will glow from the field surrounding the ball. Dude.
Here are some other fun and possibly ill-advised games to play with your
plasma ball. Whee!
NOTE: LT80s in NO WAY suggests that you try any of these activities since
you could, like, lose a finger or go blind or totally burn your house
Today, plasma balls are still available, and they come in all shapes and
sizes. They’d make a great accessory for your next
eighties party, as well as a
choice addition to your collection of eighties memorabilia. Scope out
Ebay for tons of options and get your 80s plasma glowing, dude!