Lightning flashes four million times a day around the world, lightning and can start wildfires in our remote forested areas. Check out the latest finding from WIRED Magazine to “enlighten” yourself.
Lightning flashes 4 million times a day around the world, transforming landscapes—and starting wildfires in our remote forested areas. And depending on where you choose to stand or sit or fish – during a thunderstorm, lightning can kill you.
The question of why lightning happens remains unanswered, but scientists have figured out the how. It’s a collaborative effort, born from the electrical tension between earth and the atmosphere. We all live in one massive capacitor (not flux like the one in Back to The Future) composed of the positively charged outer atmosphere and negatively charged earth. On a fine day, you don’t feel the electrical charge because the atmosphere around you doesn’t bother with conducting the electricity. But when a thunderstorm starts to roll in, everything goes topsy turvy.
Warm air starts rising up into cooler climes and condenses to build dark, heavy thunderclouds. During cloud formation, electrical charges are going crazy. If you looked inside the thundercloud, you would see positively charged particles bunching at the top and a heap of negatively charged particles piled at the bottom. So powerful is the cloud’s negative charge that it repels Earth’s natural negativity deep into the ground, making room for a field of positive charge that shadows the thunderstorm as long as it lasts.
And finally, once the opposite charges reach a boiling point, the stage is set for lightning’s grand entrance. The built-up electrical reserve slices through the normally resistant air. A negative channel, called a leader, zips down toward the ground while a positive channel, called a streamer, rushes upwards to meet it. When they crash together, the rapid electrical discharge burns up and down through both channels. You see those exchanges as lightning, in its many forms. The full story and other great pics are in this month’s WIRED magazine.