Welcome to the first of what will be a five-part series on Electricity in Nature! Today’s topic is lightning.
We’re all familiar with lightning, though some of us are more afraid of it than others (but not me… no sirree, I’m not scared…), but there is still so much to learn about this incredible natural phenomenon. For example, do you know:
If you saw photos of the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull that erupted in 2010, you may have seen lightning within the plumes of smoke and thought that they surely must be photoshopped. Not so!
There is still research being conducted into the definitive cause behind lightning within the smoke plumes of volcanoes, but the general consensus involves, of all things, dust. The idea is that dust/smoke/ash particles carry small charges that become amplified during the chaos of rushing out of a volcano. With every collision of one particle with another, the charges become more and more polarized until lightning is inevitable because the polarization becomes too great for the air to resist the flow of electricity. The lightning neutralizes the charge separation, essentially relieving the tension of polarization.
credit: National Geographic
There is another lesser known type of volcanic lightning, however, which occurs right at the mouth of the volcano and is much less orderly (not the ordinary branching, bolting lightning we’re used to seeing), manifesting as chaotic sparks probably as the result of a heavy charge within the volcano itself.
The answer to this question depends on who you ask, and what you consider a “kind” of lightning. The typical classifications are as follows:
Cloud-to-cloud (intercloud, which is lightning moving between separate clouds, and intracloud, which is lightning moving within the same cloud).
Cloud-to-ground (Less common but more dangerous than cloud to cloud. If anything on the earth is struck by lightning, it was cloud-to-ground.) Cloud-to-ground lightning is more complex than a simple bolt shooting straight from a cloud, however, and includes charges moving up and down from both the cloud and the ground.
credit: NOAA Photo Library
Cloud-to-sky (Also known as sprites, cloud-to-sky lightning occurs in the upper atmosphere. They lack the hot temperatures of other types of lightning, and usually have a reddish-orange hue.)
credit: Wikipedia Commons
Lightning is also sometimes further specified as:
Ribbon lightning (Successive strokes of lightning are displaced by wind, resulting in a broadened appearance, almost like a double-exposed photo).
credit: Storm Highway
Bead lightning (The decay of the luminosity of the bolt of lightning, resulting in a beaded appearance. This happens very quickly and is difficult to capture.)
St. Elmo’s Fire This is not actually lightning, but often closely associated with it and seen during electrical storms. St. Elmo’s Fire (not to be confused with ball lightning as it often is) is the result of a gap in electrical charge. It’s made of plasma (ionized air that emits a glow) and, while lightning is the movement of electricity from a charged point, St. Elmo’s Fire is a coronal discharge that sparks up in the place where there is a drastic difference in charge between the air and an object like the mast of a ship or the steeple of a church. St. Elmo’s Fire is the same thing that happens in a fluorescent tube- essentially a continuous spark, glowing blue because of the particular combination of air molecules. It may also take on a purple hue.
St. Elmo’s Fire is very difficult to find accurate images or videos of. Many videos exist that claim to be St. Elmo’s Fire but are actually just static discharge (a frequent occurrence around airplanes in the midst of storms). An easy way to tell the difference is that St. Elmo’s Fire does not look like lightning- instead it emits a steady glow.
Ball lightning- The most mysterious type of “lightning”, there is some dispute among scientists as to whether ball lightning actually exists. Arc faults along power lines (which appear as large, impossibly bright balls of light) and photographic anomalies are both to blame. Below is a video claiming to show ball lightning, and it actually matches pretty closely the most common descriptions of ball lightning, but whether it actually is is anyone’s guess.
One has only to view an electrical storm themselves to understand why so many people have associated lightning and thunder with deity. A few popular myths and legends about lightning:
credit: History King
Share your $0.02! Have you had any personal encounters with lightning? Have you or anyone you know been struck by lightning, or have you seen lightning phenomena you couldn’t explain? Share your experiences below!
3D Electrical is very responsive and they provide a high level of quality at a fair price. I would recommend them for any small or large project. —