What is Lightning and how does it form?
Lightning hmmmm…… what is lightning? Well I think lightning is an electrical charge that forms in a cloud and comes out as a burst of heat. Let’s say you were walking home from a friends house in a thunderstorm and you saw lightning strike a tree, well for one thing did it come from a cloud or just the sky and what did it look like? Thunderstorms often bring disasters with them. This can be in form of floods,fires caused by lightning , damage from hailstones or strong winds.
Lightning happens when the negative charges (electrons) in the bottom of the cloud are attracted to the positive charges (protons) in the ground. The accumulation of electric charges has to be great enough to overcome the insulating properties of air. When this happens, a stream of negative charges pours down towards a high point where positive charges have clustered due to the pull of the thunderhead. A thunderhead is a rounded, projecting head of a cumulus cloud, which portends a thunderstorm.
The connection is made and the protons rush up to meet the electrons. It is at that point that we see lightning and hear thunder. A bolt of lightning heats the air along its path causing it to expand rapidly. Thunder is the sound caused by rapidly expanding air.
Just like a battery, these clouds have a “plus” end and a “minus” end. The plus, or positive, charges in the cloud are at the top. The minus, or negative, charges are at the bottom. When the charge at the bottom gets strong enough, the cloud lets out energy. The energy goes through the air. It goes to a place that has the opposite charge. This lightning bolt of energy that is let out is called a leader stroke. It can go from the cloud to the ground. A leader stroke can go from the cloud to another cloud. No one is sure why lightning bolts follow a zigzag path as they move. The main bolt or stroke will go back up to the cloud. It will make a flash of lightning. It will also heat the air. The air will spread quickly. It will make the sound we hear as thunder.
How to be safe in a thunderstorm
Stay away from open spaces. But, do not stand under a tree. The best place is inside a building.
If you are swimming, get out of the water. Get out as soon as you see a storm coming. The storm may seem far away, but lightning can travel over 20 miles!
During a thunderstorm, shut off or unplug all electrical items. Do not use the phone.
Never walk in a thunderstorm carrying a metal pole. Don’t even carry an umbrella!
How will you know if a lightning strike is near you? You will feel the hair on your head or body start to stand up. If this happens, go to a safe place. Go quickly! If there is no safe place near, get as close to the ground as you can. These are some really good ways to be safe in a thunderstorm so next time there is a thunderstorm just remember these things to be safe.
Scientists have learned some facts about lightning from pictures. Some lightning flashes are made up of as many as 25 or more lightning bolts (strokes). They move so fast that your eyes only see one flash! Lightning is fun to watch but make sure you do it safely.
You might be asking how does lightning know were to strike? Well I have the answer to that question. The electric field “looks” for a doorknob. Sort of. It looks for the closest and easiest path to release its charge. Often lightning occurs between clouds or inside a cloud.But the lightning we usually care about most is the lightning that goes from clouds to ground—because that’s us!
As the storm moves over the ground, the strong negative charge in the cloud attracts positive charges in the ground. These positive charges move up into the tallest objects like trees, telephone poles, and houses. A “stepped leader” of negative charge descends from the cloud seeking out a path toward the ground. Although this phase of a lightning strike is too rapid for human eyes, this slow-motion video shows it happening.As the negative charge gets close to the ground, a positive charge, called a streamer, reaches up to meet the negative charge. The channels connect and we see the lightning stroke. We may see several strokes using the same path, giving the lightning bolt a flickering appearance, before the electrical discharge is complete.
In a fraction of a second, lightning heats the air around it to incredible temperatures—as hot as 54,000 °F (30,000 °C). That’s five times hotter than the surface of the Sun!The heated air expands explosively, creating a shockwave as the surrounding air is rapidly compressed. The air then contracts rapidly as it cools. This creates an initial popping sound, followed by rumbles as the column of air continues to vibrate.
If we are watching the sky, we see the lightning before we hear the thunder. That is because light travels much faster than sound waves. We can estimate the distance of the lightning by counting how many seconds it takes until we hear the thunder. It takes approximately 5 seconds for the sound to travel 1 mile. If the thunder follows the lightning almost instantly, you know the lightning is too close for comfort!
Lightning is when water and ice move around inside the cloud; forced up by warm air currents, down by gravity, and compressed in the cloud. Just as rubbing a balloon can create static electricity, the particles in the cloud become charged. It’s not clear how it happens, but charges separate in the cloud. Positive charges move up, and negatives move down.
Once a significant charge separation has built up, the positive and negative charges seek to reach each other an neutralise. ‘Streamers’ come up from the ground to form a pathway. Once a pathway is completed a spark forms, neutralizing the charge.
As the negative charge races down, the air surrounding it heats up.The spark is very hot at almost 20,000 degrees Celsius, and it rapidly heats the air to create a shock wave.
Considering light travels very fast – about 300 million metres per second, and that sound only travels at 300 metres per second; light is a million times faster than the sound produced. To find out how far away the storm is, you can count how long you hear the sound after the lightning. For every 4 seconds between the flash and the rumble, the thunderstorm is 1 mile away.
At any time there are over 2,000 thunderstorms occurring worldwide, each producing over a 100 lightning strikes a second.
That’s over 8 million lightning bolts every day.
Each lightning flash is about 3 miles long but only about a centimetre wide
A lightning strike discharges about 1-10 billion joules of energy and produces a current of 30,000 – 50,000 amps.
A single lightning bolt unleashes as much energy as blowing up a ton of TNT.
A strike is actually made up of between three and twelve individual lightning ‘strokes’, each lasting only a few thousandths of a second.
Did you know that there is an lightning detector? It is made by Alexander Popov. He invented it on May 7,1895.The first lightning detector made the invention of the radio possible. Lightning and radio may sound like unrelated concepts, but they are more similar than you might think.
Have you ever put a cell phone or other electronic device near a radio? You may have heard weird crackles and pops. That’s because electricity generated by the phone makes radio waves that mess with the radio.
Lightning, too, creates radio waves. Radio waves—just like light and heat—are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. It makes sense that lightning would generate them. That’s what Alexander Popov was thinking when he set out to build a long-range radio wave receiver to detect lightning back in 1895.
We know that it is possible to see lightning and hear the thunder it creates when it is nearby, but it is beneficial to know if a more distant storm is bringing lightning with it. Lightning is a sign of severe weather, and detecting it early can help people prepare.
Popov’s device worked by detecting natural radio waves. And it was a success! Not only did it detect lightning, but it also led to developments that made transmitting and receiving human-generated radio signals possible.
Because of this, many consider Popov to be the inventor of the radio, though others also have claim to the title.
Popov’s basic concept is still used by weather organizations to this day. Meteorologists refer to them as ground-based lightning sensors. If you have just one of them, all it can do is tell you there is a lightning strike and give you a sense of its distance. But if you have at least four of them in the area, then you can combine all the info to get an exact location of a lightning strike.