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.
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.’
...what a moonbow is?
Moonbows, also known as lunar rainbows, are the dimmer cousin of more common daylight rainbows, made possible from the refraction of raindrops by moonlight, rather than sunlight.
Moonbows are so rare because moonlight is not usually bright, and the alignment of conditions needed for them don't happen often.
According to Atmospheric Optics, a bright near-full moon must be less than 42 degrees above the horizon, illuminating rain on the opposite side of a dark sky.
There are 5 ways to be struck by lightning!
1. Direct strike
2. Side flash
3. Ground current
Lightning Makes For A Terrible Renewable Energy Source
Lightning is an impressive, energetic force of nature — so why aren't we using all that raw power to run our homes? Two reasons:
For one thing, lightning is unpredictable and really, really fast.
The second part of the answer: It's hot and loud and bright, but lightning doesn't carry as much energy as you might think.
On the 21st of August 2011, a thunderstorm forced the Pope to cut short his speech!
On the 21st of August 2011, a thunderstorm forced the pope to cut short his speech to an estimated 1 million young pilgrims gathered at a Madrid airfield to mark World Youth Day. As rain soaked the crowd and lightning lit up the night sky on Saturday, the 84-year-old pontiff skipped the bulk of the speech and delivered brief greetings in half a dozen languages.
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.
Upside-down lightning strikes exist and pose a great threat to wind turbines!
Upward lightning strikes initiate on the ground and head skyward. These discharges, which usually begin at the top of tall and slender structures, pose a real risk for wind turbines. An EPFL study analyzes the mechanisms underlying this poorly understood phenomenon.
A man was blown out of boots after being hit by a lightning bolt!
A man in Atlanta, USA was lucky to be alive after he was struck by lightning, blowing him right out of his work boots. Sean O’Connor was doing yard work Saturday when he was struck by a bolt of lightning and knocked unconscious. According to the 30-year-old, the sun was shining and there appeared to be no threat of storms when he began working in his yard.
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.
Animals get struck by lightning, too.
Lightning strikes about 100 times every second of the day, mainly in warmer regions of the world. About 240,000 people are injured by lightning every year, and 24,000 die after being struck. But humans aren’t the only victims of lightning — animals are, too, though reports of such deaths are far rarer than the deaths themselves.
...that Lightning produces afterglow of gamma radiation?
Lightning can produce X-rays and gamma radiation. In the past, researchers thought that this phenomenon only lasted for a very short time, about a ten thousandth part of a second. However, the ionizing radiation of lightning appears to shine much longer than presumed: an afterglow of gamma radiation arises, which lasts up to 10,000 times longer. This is demonstrated for the first time by computer simulations of researchers from Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) in Amsterdam. Their article 'TGF afterglows: a new radiation mechanism from thunderstorms' was published on 22 October 2017 in the scientific journal Geophysical Review Letters. This discovery can provide more insight into how lightning develops.
Terrestrial gamma flashes
‘Terrestrial gamma flashes’ were discovered about two decades ago. When lightning starts, electrons can be accelerated to very high energies, which cause an explosion of gamma radiation when these electrons crash into air molecules: the so-called terrestrial gamma flashes'. Bursts of up to a trillion (‘a billion billion’) gamma particles are measured on the ground, in airplanes and by satellites. However, these measurements are difficult, since these bursts are very focused and only last for a short time, around 0,0001 seconds. There is still much unknown about how these terrestrial gamma flashes arise and what their role is in the development of lightning. The now discovered afterglow helps to study this phenomenon.
Afterglow in all directions
CWI researcher Casper Rutjes explains what happens in the newly discovered radiation mechanism. “The radiation of a terrestrial gamma flash is so strong that nuclear reactions can take place. When the gamma rays hit the atomic nuclei of the air molecules, the protons and neutrons, of which atomic nuclei exist, can be detached. The loose neutrons can wander longer and farther than protons because they don’t have electrical charge. After a while, the neutron is captured by another atomic nucleus, which can again produce gamma radiation. The high energy of the gamma ray flash, which is used in releasing neutrons, is, so to speak, temporarily stored in the released neutrons.” The CWI researchers calculated that in this way an afterglow of new gamma radiation occurs, which lasts for 1,000 to 10,000 times longer than the gamma ray flash itself and which is not focused but radiates into all directions, which facilitates measurements.
The CWI researchers found in the scientific literature hardly any measurements that corresponded to the predictions, because almost no one was done on the right time scale. Researcher Casper Rutjes says: “Recently, our simulations have also been confirmed by experiments. Almost simultaneously, G.S. Bowers et al. of the University of California Santa Cruz, have measured a clear afterglow of gamma ray flashes in Japan, after a lightning bolt struck a wind turbine. That article, ‘Gamma-ray signatures of neutrons from a terrestrial gamma-ray flash’, also appeared now in the scientific journal Geophysical Review Letters.
About the radiation risk Rutjes says: “The chance of being hit directly by a terrestrial gamma ray flash is very small. If someone in a plane is hit directly by such a narrow terrestrial gamma ray flash, this person will receive a radiation dose approximately equal to 400 times an X-ray picture (30 mSv). The afterglow that we discovered radiates into all directions, increasing the chance that a plane flying above a thunderstorm is hit, but fortunately, that radiation is much weaker. The radiation dose of the afterglow after lightning is not dangerous: less than passengers already receive through background radiation when they fly for an hour.”
The research was conducted by Casper Rutjes, Gabriel Diniz, Ivan Ferreira and Ute Ebert from Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) in Amsterdam, and it was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).
Struck by lightning but died drawing.
A 21-year-old man drowned at sea following a lightning strike as he was returning to shore in a boat after a fishing trip on Sunday, 17/01/2016. Ng Young Ching had apparently fallen into the sea in the vicinity of the Sungai Ayam Lighthouse in Senggarang near Batu Pahat at about 5pm as he was returning to the Sungai Ayam fishing jetty, Batu Pahat Maritime Base maritime enforcement chief Lt Commander (Maritime) Muhammad Zulkarnain Abdullah said yesterday.
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.
The plane carrying the Spanish national football team home from the World Cup in Brazil was struck by lightning on the 22nd of June 2014!
The plane carrying the Spanish national football team home from the World Cup in Brazil was struck by lightning on the 22nd of June 2014 as it approached its landing in Madrid, adding to the streak of bad luck the team seemed to be on after its World Cup defeat.
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.”
On July 13, 1977, New York City endured a 25-hour blackout after lightning strikes power lines.
On July 13, 1977, New York City endured a 25-hour blackout after lightning strikes power lines, prompting widespread arson, looting, and riots. The blackout was to many a metaphor for the gloom that had already settled on the city. An economic decline, coupled with rising crime rates and the panic-provoking (and paranoia-inducing) Son of Sam murders, had combined to make the late 1970s New York’s Dark Ages.
Google lost data by lightning strikes!
On 2015, during an August thunderstorm, Google lost data by lightning strikes! Google says data has been wiped from discs at one of its data centres in Belgium - after the local power grid was struck by lightning four times.
Which are the places more likely to be struck by lightning?
The place most likely to be struck by lightning in the world is one spot above Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, according to new data. Over this mountain lake, there was a lightning show an astounding 297 days out of 365 days a year, on average. Even more surprising, the lightning strikes didn't occur just over the massive lake, but at one particular spot -- the point where the lake empties into the Catatumbo River, researchers said Dec. 14 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
...Lightning strikes Catatumbo River in northern Venezuela 280 times per hour, 260 nights per year!
A lightning storm rages almost constantly at the mouth of the Catatumbo River in northern Venezuela, with bolts striking up to 280 times per hour for 10 hours a day, on 260 nights every year. That's 28 lightning strikes per minute for those nights - and about 1.2 million lightning strikes each year.
Venezuela, home of the delicious pabellón criollo, has been experiencing the Catatumbo lightning for hundreds of years now. It comes from storm clouds that amass more than 3,200 feet above the spot where the Catatumbo River flows into Lake Maracaibo. According to meteorologists, winds going across the lake and its surrounding swamps are likely responsible for the storms. The swamps are plains surrounded by mountains - the Andes (home of the first cultivation of quinoa), the Perijá Mountains, and the Cordillera de Mérida - and the combination of heat and moisture in the area creates electrical charges that - when met with wind destabilized by the mountain ridges - turns into lightning and thunderstorms.
Light flashes from the storm can be seen up to 25 miles away, earning the phenomenon the nickname "The Maracaibo Beacon," and it's been used by ships for navigation as a result.
The frequency of the lightning strikes changes both within the year and from one year to the next. October's wet season is peak time for the storms, while they generally calm down in January and February. In fact, there was a break in the storm due to a drought between January and March of 2010, and locals feared that the phenomenon was over for good.
The Catatumbo lightning holds a special place in the heart of Venezuelans, because it may have been partially responsible for the nation's independence. An attempted surprise attack led by British navigator Sir Francis Drake on the Spanish army was spoiled by the bright lightning one night in 1595, a story that was later recounted in Lope de Vega's epic La Dragontea a few years later. Years later, in the early nineteenth century, the Spanish army itself attempted a sneak attack on Maracaibo in order to take back the country towards the end of the Venezuelan War of Independence. Again, the Catatumbo lightning lit up the landscape, thwarting the invasion and allowing Venezuela's beloved revolutionary hero, Simón Bolívar, and his fleet to win one of the last and most important battles in the wars against the Spanish for independence.
The Catatumbo lightning has also been responsible for producing more ozone at the mouth of the Catatumbo than any other place in the world. Scientists have expressed doubt, however, that this will have any effect on the world's ozone layer, due to the lightning's instability. Its effect on tourism, however, is not in doubt, as sightseers have flocked to the region to join nighttime tours to see the lightning. It's a great addition to any South American itinerary.