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B Making a bolt of lightning travel in a straight direction?

  1. Nov 1, 2016 #1
    Why does a bolt of lightning crackle into many different directions when it travels to the ground?

    Can a bolt of lightning be made to travel in straight direction, is it theoretically possible to understand and control lightning?
     
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  3. Nov 1, 2016 #2

    fresh_42

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    Because it minimizes electric resistance, which varies a lot in space and time.
    You mean, without the usage of a solid conductor? I've recently seen an experiment on TV in which they tried to use a beam of Argon gas to conduct the lightning. The results have been pretty poor, although they've managed to reduce the amount of possible paths.
     
  4. Nov 1, 2016 #3

    anorlunda

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  5. Nov 15, 2016 #4
    Thanks for all the replies guys!
     
  6. Nov 16, 2016 #5

    NascentOxygen

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    I think there are electrical discharges between Jupiter and one of its moons, Io. I wonder what those would look like? In the planet's atmosphere they would show up as visible bolts among the clouds, and on the ground of Io you might see trails being etched in the surface and dust or sputtered rock being thrown around, though in the vacuum between the pair I guess we'd see nothing to betray the passage of current.

    However, on its passage through that inner space would it be following a smooth path, a straight line or something like a helix?
     
  7. Nov 16, 2016 #6

    anorlunda

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    That's an interesting question. In the vacuum of space it may indeed go in a straight line, or in a curve because of magnetic fields, but how would we observe it?

    The more I learn about Io, the more it sounds like a hell. If you're not boiled in a lake of molten sulfur, you are crushed by the tides, or baked in a volcano, and now you tell me that I'll be bombarded by lightning. Sounds like something from Dante.

    What is the breakdown voltage of the roughly 350,000 km of near vacuum between Jupiter and Io?
     
  8. Nov 16, 2016 #7

    ZapperZ

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    Vacuum breakdown is a common topic in accelerator physics, since we are dealing with extremely high gradients and in UHV conditions. So yes, they can be observed simply via the emission of light and the change in the RF signal being sent into the structure (forward and reflected power).

    The thing here is that a vacuum breakdown, at least in the current, most accepted model, will still require the presence of residual gasses, either due to outgassing, heating, or particle bombardment. This is the only way for there to be gas ionization that will create the "light" one observes when there is a breakdown.

    This is one such example of the study of vacuum breakdown in a metallic electrode.

    http://physics.aps.org/story/v19/st4

    Zz.
     
  9. Nov 16, 2016 #8

    NascentOxygen

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    If discharge is continuous at least in the short term, could plasma jets extend into space?
     
  10. Nov 16, 2016 #9

    anorlunda

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    Doubly interesting. What would the propagation speed of lightning be in space? We are not just propagating a field at light speed, but rather massive charged particles.

    In real Jovian life, it could be very complicated because moons like Io eject matter in streams in the orbital trail of the moon. Those streams may extend downward in a spiral towards the atmosphere. Off the top of my head, it sounds like a discharge would find less resistance following those streams instead of jumping across a vacuum in a straight line.
     
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