YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
This week’s topic is something you’ve probably experienced at least once in your life, regardless of where you live in the world.
It’s here in an instant and gone in a flash!
If you haven’t guessed yet, we’re talking about lightning!
While most common in tall and dense cumulonimbus clouds, lightning can happen in other types of clouds too.
When water and ice molecules come together in a cloud, they create an unbalanced electrical charge.
Over time, the bottom of the cloud gains a negative charge while the top gains a positive charge.
Eventually, if the difference between charges is great enough, electrons shoot out to nearby locations searching for a positive charge to help create an electrical circuit that can dissipate the additional energy and balance the charge.
These electrons are called a stepped leader and can move at speeds of more than 209,215 km/hr (130,000mph)!
Once the stepped leader gets close enough to a suitable positive charge, a streamer will rise up from the positive area to meet it.
With a bright flash, a channel of energy roughly the width of a human thumb is created. This allows the electricity to travel from the clouds to the streamer location in mere microseconds, creating what we call lightning!
In the fraction of a second that it arcs across the sky, lightning can reach temperatures of 29,982ºC (54,000ºF)!
The average lightning bolt also contains anywhere from 100-million to 1-billion volts, and billions of watts of power.
This means a single lightning strike could power a 100-watt lightbulb for three months!
That’s a whole lot of power from something that’s here and gone so quickly!
The whole process happens so fast that when the channel of air left behind collapses, it creates thunderous booms!
Most of the time, lightning flashes occur between the clouds andnearby buildings, other tall objects, or the ground.
However, lightning can also occur inside of clouds, or between clouds. This often causes bright flashing clouds and beautiful streams of light to dance across the sky!
As you might have guessed, all of the electricity from lightning is very dangerous.
So if you see flashes of lightning or hear thunder in the distance, be sure to take shelter until the weather passes.
Thunder never happens without lightning, so listening closely for nearby storms is a simple way to stay safe!
There are scientists who specialize in the study of lightning. They are called fulminologists!
When a lightning strike hits clay or dirt, it can fuse the ground into a glassy rock called a fulgurite.
If you’ve ever walked across a carpet and received a quick shock when you reach for a doorknob, you’ve experienced the same electrical forces that occur in lightning—though at a much smaller scale!
Clouds aren’t the only source of lightning. Volcanic eruptions, extreme forest fires, nuclear detonations, and heavy snowstorms can create it too!
See a slow-motion lightning storm in Singapore with the help of the high-tech cameras at Planet Slo Mo!