How Hot Is Lightning?
Lightning is one of the most destructive forces in nature. But for all the folklore and legends amassed over human history on lightning, we know surprisingly little about the inner workings of this powerful phenomenon, including something as simple as how the current that flows through a thunder-inducing flash is related to the temperature of the strike.
"The basic physics of lightning, such as lightning initiation and lightning propagation, is not fully understood at this point," said Robert Moore, a lightning researcher from University of Florida in Gainesville.
"We know the basics, but not the details. So when anybody makes headway, it is major news."
Lightning causes more than $5 billion in damages every year in the U.S., as well as more fatalities than hurricanes.
"A direct hit from a lightning strike can melt a power cable or start a forest fire, where the amount of heat from the lightning plays a major role," said Xiangchao Li, a scientist from China who specializes in lightning research. Li and his team discovered a mathematical relationship between the current intensity and the temperature inside lightning. Their result was published last month in the journal Scientific Reports.
Although there are approximately 100,000 lightning strikes on Earth every single day, the randomness of the occurrences makes it difficult for scientists to study them in an effective or systematic way. So until Thor, the Norse god of lightning as well as other meteorological events, joins a lightning research team, scientists are left to their own devices.
Luckily such a device does exist. Known as an impulse current generator system, the device can create artificial lightning with currents up to tens of thousands of amperes. For perspective, a household or automotive fuse is usually rated well below a hundred amperes, and an electric current of just a few amperes can easily kill you. A natural lightning strike typically carries around 20-30,000 amperes of current. Certainly there are other factors such as size and setting of natural lightning that cannot be replicated in a laboratory, but just in terms of sheer current output, the lightning generated by the device can really give Thor a run for his money.
By using their artificial lightning system, Li and his team were able to dial up lightning strikes at will, with currents between 5,000 to 50,000 amperes. This resulted in artificial lightning strikes with temperatures as high as 17,000 F, twice as hot as the surface of the Sun.
This creates a new problem -- at such high temperatures, a normal thermometer would explode. And even if it didn't, it wouldn't react quickly enough to register the temperature of the lightning strike. Fortunately, there is "light" in "lightning." Li and his team were able to record the lightning's temperature within a millisecond by measuring the intensity of the light at various wavelengths.
After striking lightning at the same place over and over again, they concluded that the relationship between the current and temperature of lightning is a highly logarithmic one, meaning that the temperature difference between lightning strikes with 1,000 and 10,000 amperes is similar to those with 10,000 and 100,000 amperes. This result provides solid evidence for previous theoretical predictions that lacked the support of data.
"The next step would be to compare with measurements from rocket triggered lightning, or natural lightning, which can be done throughout the U.S. or China," Moore suggested.
That's right, rocket-triggered lightning. Essentially a glorified version of Benjamin Franklin's wired kite, scientists today have ways to siphon natural lightning from the sky by launching an electrically grounded rocket, as shown in the video below.
With a better understanding of the physics of lightning, scientists can help engineers to improve current protocols and infrastructures to better deal with lightning -- from weather warning systems to the design of power grids. Perhaps we can one day limit the power of Thor to only smiting Loki on the silver screen.
More than 400 people were killed in southern Egypt when lightning struck a depot's fuel tanks.
More than 400 people were killed in southern Egypt, most of them when blazing fuel flooded into a village from a depot struck by lightning in a rainstorm. Lightning struck the depot's eight fuel tanks toward the end of the storm that raged across much of Egypt for up to five hours.
Almost half of drivers speed to avoid hail storms!
According to research from RACQ nearly half of Queensland, Australia drivers will speed to avoid hail damage to their cars. The motoring club and insurer's research revealed 47% of motorists admitted to speeding to avoid hail damage to their cars - up from 44% last year. The research also found female drivers were more likely to speed (54.2%) than males (52%) when a storm hits.
Planes get hit by lightning frequently!
Airplanes get hit by lightning mid-flight! Contrary to what you might believe, it’s a common occurrence on airplanes.
Animals can have storm phobia!
According to WbMD, storm phobia is very real and should be taken seriously. Loyal masters are often awaken in the middle of the night – not from the thunder – but from the uninvited pet jumping in the bed looking for comfort from the storm.
Cases of storm phobia in pets can be much more severe and should not be ignored. They say some pets have been known to “claw through drywall, chew carpets, or break through windows in their escalating panic.”
Why is lightning white?
Static charges form in a storm composed of ice crystals and liquid water drops. Turbulent winds inside the storm cause particles to rub against one another, causing electrons to be stripped off, making the particles either negatively or positively charged.
The charges get grouped in the cloud, often negatively charged near the bottom of the cloud and positively charged up high. This is an electric field and because air is a good insulator, the electric field becomes incredibly strong. Eventually a lightning bolt happens and the flow of electrons neutralizes the electric field.
This flow of electrons through the lightning bolt creates a very hot plasma, as hot as 50,000 degrees, that emits a spectrum of electromagnetic energy. Some of this radiation is in the form of radio waves and gamma rays.
Instruments that measure these electromagnetic waves allow us to detect lightning bolts that are very far away. Visible light is also part of the spectrum of energy.
At these temperatures, laws of physics state that most of the visible light will be at a wavelength perceived as the color blue, although all wavelengths will be emitted.
The notion of color applies to our perception of what we see, not to the light itself. When we talk about the color of light, we really mean the color we sense with our eyes and then interpret with our mind.
Thus, while the peak energy is at blue wavelengths, the intensity of all the colors tends to saturate our eyes, leading us to perceive the color white – which includes all wavelengths in the visible spectrum.
Over the last 20 years scientists have discovered that lightning also shoots upward out of the top of thunderstorms into the upper atmosphere. These lightning types have distinctive colors, including red sprites and blue jets.
Storm sank 4 ships on Lake Erie in 1916
Some call it Lake Erie’s “perfect storm,” one so powerful 100 years ago that it caused four ships to sink within 18 hours.
In all, 49 lives were lost in the lake’s Canadian waters, but those crew members are being remembered right here in Toledo.
“This massive [storm] affected communities across the lake,” said Carrie Snowden, archaeological director for the Toledo-based National Museum of the Great Lakes, and who is giving a presentation about the storm during a lecture series today. “This storm is Lake Erie’s own perfect storm; this coming together of different weather fronts to create something horrific on top of Lake Erie. The human loss is of greater significance.”
Tiny lightning bolt explosions can vaporise the moon’s thin soil
Mini-lightning may flash in the coldest craters on the moon, melting and vapourising soil. All that sparking could have altered the surface as much as impacts from incoming rocks and dust.
The outer layer of the moon is a sort of history book recording the interactions between the moon and the rest of the solar system. To correctly interpret that history, we need to understand the mechanisms that shape it.
A United States park ranger was hit by lightning on seven different occasions and survived all of them. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 71 over an unrequited love!
Roy Cleveland Sullivan was a United States park ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Between 1942 and 1977, Sullivan was hit by lightning on seven different occasions and survived all of them. For this reason, he gained a nickname "Human Lightning Conductor" or "Human Lightning Rod". Sullivan is recognized by Guinness World Records as the person struck by lightning more recorded times than any other human being. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 71 over an unrequited love.
On April 3, 1856 a lightning strike obliterated 4000 people in Rhodes, Greece.
On April 3, 1856 a lightning strike obliterated 4000 people. The lightning stroke the Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes, Greece, which was used as an ammo storage, resulting in a massive explosion that killed 4,000 people in and around the Palace, reducing it to a pile of rubble that sat on Rhodes for almost a century.
An incredible 45 day storm turned California into a 300-mile-long sea — and it could happen again.
A massive 19th century storm in the pacific United States opened up a 300-mile-long sea that stretched through much of the central part of California. For 43 days, from late 1861 to early 1862, it rained almost nonstop in central California. Rivers running down the Sierra Nevada mountains turned into torrents that swept entire towns away.
Lightning caused deaths are fewer every year, at least in the US!
This decade will go down in weather history as one of the wildest in modern times. Since 2010, we’ve seen both the widest and strongest tornado on record touch down in Oklahoma. Mexico felt the wrath of the strongest hurricane ever recorded in terms of wind speed. The American West is enduring a years-long drought with no end in sight. But it’s not all bad news. This decade is also on track to see the lowest number of lightning deaths we’ve ever recorded in the United States, and that’s quite the accomplishment.
A 36-year-old diver was killed after lightning struck his oxygen tank!
A 36-year-old diver was killed off a Florida beach after lightning struck his oxygen tank, authorities have said. The man was diving with three others off a boat near Deerfield Beach on Sunday. When he surfaced, ‘lighting struck his tank,’ said Deerfield Beach fire Chief Gary Fernaays. ‘He was approximately 30 feet from the boat at the time.’
Lightning bolt hit Vatican twice, hours after Pope's Benedict XVI's shock resignation.
Lightning bolt hit Vatican twice, hours after Pope's Benedict XVI's shock resignation. The lightning touched the roof of St. Peter's Basilica, one of the holiest Catholic churches, hours after Pope’s shock announcement. The spooky moment, believed by some, to be a sign from God, was caught on camera by AFP photographer Filippo Monteforte.
All 11 members of a football team were killed by a lightning bolt during a match.
All 11 members of a football team were killed by a bolt of lightning at during a match in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to a Congolese newspaper that reported the incident, the other team was left unharmed!
An "of the blue" bolt evidence!
An 11-year-old western Pennsylvania girl is recovering after she was struck by a bolt from the blue. According to Lisa Wehrle the sun was shining when her daughter, Britney, was struck by lightning Friday, apparently from a storm several miles away.
…about the Rochester ice storm?
The 1991 Ice Storm was one of the most damaging storms in Rochester history. It all began 25 years ago on Thursday. We took a look back with a woman who experienced it herself. For residents in our area that were around, the ice storm that began 25 years ago was an event unlike most had ever seen before and the memories of that storm are still as vivid and fresh as they were in 1991.
In 1769 a single lightning bolt killed 3000 people in Brescia, Italy.
In 1769 a single lightning bolt killed 3000 people in Brescia, Italy, and caused a large part of the city to be destroyed! Over 200,000 pounds of explosives were stored in the Church of San Nazaro on Brescia when a single lightning bolt struck its tower. The resulting explosion and fire killed 3000 people and destroyed a large part of the city.
Volcano eruptions can produce lightning!
Mount Etna spectacularly exploded on the 3rd of December 2015 for the first time in two years, sending a plume of volcanic ash scorching through the sky. The cloud was lit up with the astonishing sight of a "dirty thunderstorm", which causes lightning to streak through a cloud of ash. This natural wonder occurs when tiny fragments of rock, ash and ice rub together to produce static electricity.
What was that strange light in the sky?
Many people overnight reported seeing strange lights in the sky, a phenomenon that has been reported for centuries before, during, and after earthquakes.
Seismologists aren't in agreement about the causes of the hotly-debated phenomenon - called earthquake lights or, sometimes, earthquake lightning.
And, of course, it's not clear whether the lights overnight in New Zealand were the phenomenon, or something else.
One theory suggests dormant electrical charges in rocks are triggered by the stress of the Earth's crust and plate tectonics, transferring the charge to the surface where it appears as light.
Historical reports include globes, or orbs, of glowing light, floating just above the ground or in the sky.
Much like tidal research, it is an area that is notoriously difficult to investigate. Tidal stresses and their effects on the Earth are minute, but measurable, although many seismologists remain unconvinced by theories of "tidally triggered" earthquakes.
With "earthquake light", the phenomenon is also notoriously difficult to observe, study, and measure.
GNS seismologist Caroline Holden said there were anecdotal reports of lights in the sky.
"Unfortunately, we cannot measure this phenomena or its extent with our instruments to provide a clear explanation," she said.
The phenomenon has been documented for centuries.
Hypotheses have suggested the movement of rocks could generate an electric field, others suggest quakes can lead to rocks conducting electromagnetic energy and a subsequent build up of electric charges in the upper atmosphere.
Yet another theory suggests a link between the electric charge, or current, released by the earth ripping and buckling below the surface, and the magnetic properties of rock.
The charge appears as light, so the theory goes.
People reported similar strange lights in the sky during the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
In 1888, before a large quake around the Hanmer region, a strange glow in the sky was reported by observers.
One recent study documented hundreds of sightings of strange light, glowing, and aurora-like reports, from 1600 to the 19th century.
The study in the Seismological Research Letters suggested a charge builds up in rock inside the Earth's crust and, as it becomes rapidly unstable in a quake, expands outward.
In an earthquake, the electrical charge transfers from below the surface to the surface, or above, depending on the conductivity of the rock - appearing as light.
"When such an intense charge state reaches the Earth's surface and crosses the ground–air interface, it is expected to cause [an electric transmission and breakdown] of the air and, hence, an outburst of light.
"This process is suspected to be responsible for flashes of light coming out of the ground and expanding to considerable heights at the time when seismic waves from a large earthquake pass by."
The study said some seismologists also think the theory could account for other phenomena, such as changes to electrical fields, strange fog, haze, clouds, and low-frequency humming or radio frequency emission.
In the study, the researchers found the light was more often associated with a type of quake in which tectonic plates are wrenched apart, known as a "rift" earthquake