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Why thunderbolts don't travel in straight lines

  1. Jul 14, 2004 #1
    Why thunderbolts don't travel in straight lines ?
    I think the electrical charge likes to move in the shortest path to the earth and the shortest path must be a straight line !!!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 14, 2004 #2
    Well it's really not a "thunder" bolt since thunder is the sound produced from the expanding air. but anyway..

    The lighting does take the shortest route except that you're forgetting one thing. The lighting is the passing of electrons from atom to atom. The electrons use the air as their medium of travel in this case, instead of a wire or something you that normally think of with electricity. Basically, whichever way is easiest they will take.. but you must think of it on an atomic level. It's going to be a little jumpy in the paths it takes as the impulse decends downwards.

    Also a little fact, the speed it takes to get from top to bottom is not the speed the electrons move. That's the speed of the impulse. The electrons move much more slowly.

    It gets much more complex than that too but I think that should be a decent explanation. :smile:
  4. Jul 15, 2004 #3
    Last night the thunderbolt waked me up, right then this question appeared in my mind.
    For such an immediate question this answer is very good and complete.
    Thank you
  5. Jul 15, 2004 #4


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    This is still a heavily researched topic in physics. Sporff has it pretty much right from what I know of the subject.
  6. Jul 15, 2004 #5


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    A bolt of lightning, as you probably know, occurs when the difference electrical charge becomes great enough for a spark to jump from one club to another, or from a cloud to the ground. But that is the simplified version. In actuality, there are many pockets of charge differential throughout the air during a thunderstorm. With little pockets of higher and higher potential building up all over the place, when the imbalance between the two charges finally gets high enough, the electrons actually jump from one pocket to another, rather like "connect-the-dots ". If you can see it in slow motion, this actually has a chain reaction effect. Potential drained from one location increases the difference in potentials between that location and its neighbor, causing the neighbor to discharge, and so on.
  7. Jul 15, 2004 #6
    What sporff told was exactly the answer I was looking for. But now with the last post some more questions are made in my mind which I just ignore them untill the time that I know more of the subject :redface:
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