Lightning Definition and 27 Discussions

Lightning is a naturally occurring electrostatic discharge during which two electrically charged regions, both in the atmosphere or with one on the ground, temporarily equalize themselves, causing the instantaneous release of as much as one gigajoule of energy. This discharge may produce a wide range of electromagnetic radiation, from very hot plasma created by the rapid movement of electrons, to brilliant flashes of visible light in the form of black-body radiation. Lightning causes thunder, a sound from the shock wave which develops as gases in the vicinity of the discharge experience a sudden increase in pressure. Lightning occurs commonly during thunderstorms as well as other types of energetic weather systems, but volcanic lightning can also occur during volcanic eruptions.
The three main kinds of lightning are distinguished by where they occur: either inside a single thundercloud, between two different clouds, or between a cloud and the ground. Many other observational variants are recognized, including "heat lightning", which can be seen from a great distance but not heard; dry lightning, which can cause forest fires; and ball lightning, which is rarely observed scientifically.
Humans have deified lightning for millennia. Idiomatic expressions derived from lightning, such as the English expression "bolt from the blue", are common across languages.

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  1. T

    What Triggers Lightning - Revealed Cheers, Tom
  2. xpell

    I What are the most energetic lightning "superbolts" ever measured?

    Hi! I would be interested in properly referenced data about the most powerful / energetic lightning bolts on Earth to get a good idea about their maximum possible order of magnitude (maybe depending on location?) Both direct measurements or indirect but well-founded estimates (e.g. satellite...
  3. TurtleMeister

    Stargazing Macroscopic Dark Matter Revealed By Lightning

    This paper suggests that macroscopic dark matter could leave a trail of ionized plasma as it passes through the Earth's atmosphere. If this happens during a thunderstorm it could trigger a lightning strike that follows that trail.
  4. dykuma

    A A mathematical description of the physics behind Aurora?

    Maybe a bit of an odd question (not really sure where it would belong on this site to be honest), but I was wondering if anyone can explain, or at least knows of a source that explains in a quantitative way, the physics behind aurora? Now I've seen websites like this that discuss conceptually...
  5. mollwollfumble

    B Would lightning be possible on brown dwarfs?

    Lightning is well known from planets, and to some extent the bigger the planet, the more powerful the lightning. Would it also be possible on brown dwarfs (Y, T, L, M)? What about red dwarfs (M)? Other stars?
  6. B

    I Problems with Einstein's 1920 "Relativity"

    Hi, I have been reading and watching a lot of physics lately but I have come across this problem. I have the basics of special relativity down, and it all seems clear to me. This is not in question to me. For example, I am reading a book on string theory by Brain Greene, and in it he covers...
  7. G

    Tornado Biggest Lightning Thunder BOOM Explosion EVER

    I was a storm chaser for many years. I have seen 100s of tornadoes. I have seen all types of lightning, hail, wind, rain, etc. I thought I had seen it all until last night. Radar shows counter clock wise rotation moving east I appeared to me in the exact path. There were no lightning...
  8. G

    Let current from a Van de Graff generator flow through you

    Hi. I have two questions about the following video with a 200'000 V Van de Graaff generator: At 5:57 he touches ground, apparently feeling nothing. He explains this with a very low current and proceeds that the current from a 120 V outlet is high and might kill you. But with ##I=U/R## and...
  9. Wrichik Basu

    A significant increase in lightning during rains

    This year in Kolkata, we are facing severe trouble from lightning. In the previous years when it rained, lightning was much less. This time, even before it starts raining, lightning starts, and it reaches the ground, taking lives. As soon as the clouds start appearing, lightning bolts reach out...
  10. Wrichik Basu

    How does lightning affect appliances with no Earthing?

    It is not very uncommon for appliances to be affected when lightning strikes nearby. This mainly occurs because there is a tendency for the lightning to travel up the earthing wire, thereby damaging the appliance through a high power surge (at least that's what I had learnt). Some days back...
  11. astroscout

    Possible Ball Lightning Event

    Hi...I was wondering if you guys can take a look at an event I recorded back on April 30, 2016. The approaching storm with plenty of lightning led me to think this could be a Ball Lightning event. Those mountains are a wildlife preserve and there are no power lines or roads there. It was about...
  12. ISamson

    Antimatter in lightning!

    A recent article from says that a Japanese team of scientists have detected gamma rays coming from lightning strikes, which react with atmospheric Nitrogen and release a positron. Who would have thought that!
  13. M

    Connection Schumann resonance and Lightning events

    I just spent some time on Wikipedia, learning about Schumann resonance, and had a question: How does the Schumann resonance relate to thunderstorms? Is there a direct relationship between the Schumann resonance and the lightning activity; the number of lightning events per second for example...
  14. M

    Visible magnetism? Or what? (right after a very close lightning strike)

    During an intense lightning storm which led to a tornado warning, I saw something in my yard which no one has yet explained. There was ordinary lightning near the ground about 30 feet away. Then I saw the whole front yard filled with fine vertical lines, evenly spaced, maybe a foot or less...
  15. Toreno

    Stargazing Lightning ball - me to analyze this rare video

    Hi, Some time ago I was looking for lightning ball videos on youtube. I observed some strange phenomenon recorded on one of the videos. Before a lightning ball is created, some "dark" ball is coming from above and then it immediately changes to the lightning ball which is moving at different...
  16. J

    Metal Tower vs Lightning....

    I have an 80 ft metal tower that is cemented into a dirt ground. It houses two small antennas to send and receive signals for wifi. This tower's power source is not a home. It has a dedicated line that runs directly to its own power meter. This tower is about 300 ft from a concrete home. The...
  17. C

    Electrical Efficiency of Ionized Air?

    Alright It's been over a year since I've posted and received amazing help the last time I did. Now I've a question I cannot seem to find an answer to. Say you have an electrical charge and use a transformer to step up the voltage high enough to where it arcs in air. Then you have a conductive...
  18. D

    Cause of multiple paths of electrical breakdown?

    When a voltage gradient across a dielectric becomes too large, the material will break down and become conductive, mostly because of plasma ionization. Thus we get lighning, static electricity fingertip shocks, and tesla coil shows. But often during such breakdowns, there are multiple...
  19. I

    Lightening hit my house.

    Lightening hit my house and caused a serious amount of damage. Outlets exploded out of walls on all floors of the house. But the worst damage by far was the second floor. So now we are fighting with our insurance to replace every wire in the house. They say only second floor wires need to be...
  20. G

    Does a lightning rod also avoid lightning?

    Hi. I understand a lightning rod reroutes the current of a lightning around an object, e.g. building. The lightning will preferably strike the rod because the electric field is strong at sharp points and the air is more likely to be ionized there. But does it also avoid lightning by giving off...
  21. Manoj Sahu

    Is it possible to create artificial lightning?

    I wonder if it is possible to create artificial lightning for an experiment. The technology has evolved at great extent over past decade. So creating very small scale artificial lightning for few seconds/micro seconds for experimental purpose
  22. N

    Effect of a lightning strike on stainless steel bolt

    Hello, I was recently onsite in the Philippines and the equipment owner stated their wind turbine had been hit by lightning. The only obvious damage was to the bolted connections at the root of one blade. One was sheared, the other bent. Does anyone have any experience of lighting causing...
  23. A

    How does lightning work? (one strike or multiple strikes?)

    I am mainly asking if it's possible for a thunder cloud to release its sorted energy in burst rather than in one strike. Like if a thundercloud had 1 billion volts would it be possible to great small sparks that allow it to shoot of 5 lighting strikes of different voltages rather than one strike...
  24. M

    Lightning flashes

    Homework Statement (a) It is estimated that the average electric charge carried in a lightning flash is 5C. If the p.d. between the cloud and the ground is about 800 MV, approximately how much energy is transferred in a flash? (b) In a typical thunderstorm, lightning flashes strike the ground...
  25. dreens

    Frequency Components of a Lightning Strike

    Hi there, I recently attended a physics demonstration (Lightning show at Boston Museum of Science, my favorite exhibit obviously), where the educator argued that the reason she could safely sit in a Faraday Cage while lightning was striking said cage was the skin effect. As I understand it...
  26. J

    Why is lightning jagged?

    In a discussion about lightning destroying electronics on sailboats the issue of controlling lightning came up. One member (Baluncore) proposed that lightning is completely predictable. I've been taught that lightning is somewhat random. To me, random implies non-linear equations with sensitive...
  27. R

    Lightning/electricity question

    Okay- first off, I know enough science to sound like an idiot, so please be gentle :-) Now, IF you had a dragon that generated an electrical charge, it wouldn't be able to direct it, lightning-style, without being able to generate an opposite charge at it's target- right? So in essence, to shot...