Skip to main content

10 lesser known facts about Lightning


Lightning over water Photo credit:www.nationalgeographic.com
From the Greeks to the Norse and Shinto to the Hindu mythology, lightning has been a sign of wrath in almost all cultures. Both feared and revered, lightning is the symbol of power and authority and even the famous Harry Potter carries this symbol on his forehead. While the clap of thunder that accompanies lightning can startle anybody easily, one cannot undermine the spookiness that a bolt of lightning can bring to a dark night with some strong winds blowing. Whether we speak of stories of mythology or a scary movie, lightning manages to add its own dimension every time. 


Here’s adding a little more to your know how about lightning.

  1. Carrying almost 300KV of energy, a spark of lightning can raise the temperature of air to about 50,000 Fahrenheit, that’s about 27,700 degree Celsius. The surface of the Sun is around 5500 degrees Celsius. So, with every bolt of lightning, we, temporarily, have the temperature of 5 Suns striking the Earth. Luckily, these high temperatures stay for just a few milli-seconds and not long enough to burn up the Earth. However, these high energy shots coming from the sky are sufficient to light a tree of fire instantly and are the starting points of many a forest fires and the destruction that follows after.

2.  ‘Lightning does not strike the same place twice’ is just a myth.  Rather the opposite seems to be true, especially for tall, pointed, isolated structures. The famous  Empire State Building in New York City is hit nearly 100 times a year and there are many photos of this sight that you will find on the internet.

If you are living in a tall rise, there is no need to panic though, since such buildings are equipped with lightning conductors that allow lightning to pass straight to the ground with harming the residents. Never the less, if you are out in the open, do not try to tempt fate by occupying the spot that has just been hit by lightning.

 3.   If conditions are right, and all the necessary ingredients (like silica or quartz) present, lightning
Fulgurite
can fuse silica to form glass. These amazing structures are called Fulgurites and are incredibly beautiful and delicate, with thin glass tubular interiors covered with sand outside, generally found in the branched out shape as lightning itself.  You can own a piece of this natural beauty by paying Science Mall USA a sum close of $300 or if you have some budgetary concerns, you can also choose a fulgurite pendant or ear-rings for around $100. Hunting one such structure down should also not be very difficult, for you can find lots of educational websites speaking about where to find Fulgurites.



Lichtenberg figure. Image credit: www.teslamania.delete.org
4.  The fascinating shape of the lightning bolt running through an insulating material is called a Lichtenberg figure. This figure, was first discovered by German physicist Georg Lichtenberg in 1777, when he was attempting to learn about the nature of positive and negative electric fields of lightning. Little did Mr. Lichtenberg know that he was laying the foundation for modern day plasma physics.

These figures are quite popular for the fractal pattern that they leave behind. If you are looking for more information on you can find it here.   

But insulating materials are not the only one to get these Lichtenberg figures. People who have been hit by lightning and survived to tell the tale also carry these fascinating shapes on their body. Called, ‘lightning flowers’, these shapes are likely to be caused due to capillary rupture beneath the skin but are definitely a horrid reminder of what the person has gone through.

5. Although lightening forms some cool patterns and, fictionally speaking, may even bestow supernatural abilities in people it strikes, in reality, it is often life threatening. With temperatures that are 5 times as much as the surface of the Sun, a direct lightning strike can leave a person charred, boiled and very very dead. More often people who get struck die instantaneously of a cardiac arrest. And if they do survive, they live with irreparable neurological and psychological damage. A study found out that many patients of lightning injury suffer from motor paralysis of upper extremities which can take a few days to recover. However, psychological effects such as hyperirritability, high levels of anxiety, attention deficit and post traumaticstress disorder remain with these patients for extended periods of time.

6.   While old Japanese folklore has spoken about how mushrooms seem to surprisingly grow well
Mushrooms Image credit: www.bascianifoods.com
during a thunder storm, it took modern day research to finally say that this may be in fact true. A single bolt of lightning is known to be fatal and can easily char the fungi or even a complete human being, but a weakened charge that travels through the ground can result in an increase in mushroom production.

Scientists are working to come up with technology that will allow farmers to simulate this artificial lightning. Similar experiments done with radishes have also borne similar results and so a small bolt of electricity seems to be doing the trick for the farmers.  So, if you have been thinking about having a bountiful mushroom crop, think about charging up a few things around and see how well the mushrooms grow.

7.  A Superbolt is a powerful and unusually bright lightning bolt. These occur once in every million lightning strikes on Earth but are said to be very common on Jupiter. Yes, lightning does occur on other planets as well and there is evidence to support that lightning has been seen on Venus and Saturn as well.  Lightning on another planet is an interesting piece of information for scientists, since the energy is lightning can be the causative factor that can break compounds or fuse them together in surprising ways, some of which might also be responsible for supporting life.

An interesting bit of information about lightning on Venus is that it originates in clouds that are made up of sulphuric acid. Definitely something to remember for the future, when we manage to put up a few people on the planet and start colonising it.

8.   If you are not bothered by lightning that strikes outdoors while you sit comfortably inside your room and read this post, there is something that you should really know. People have been struck by lightning indoors as well. How you ask? Well, these were people who managed to touch a good conductor while it was lightning outside. Plumbing pipes or telephone wires that occupy most walls of a building and are more than happy to carry the bolt of lightning with them and although your room might seem like a safe place to hide, it can actually be a mesh of electricity within which you are sitting insulated. So, do stay away from all sorts of metal when its lightning outside.

9.  Lightning helps transferring genes into the cell.  Well, this is not something that you can take quite literally, in your case, since lightning will only leave you charred and not the recipient of some mutant genes but in case of bacteria, this is quite the truth.  Scientists are able to transfer new genes to bacteria (called transformation) by giving them a small electric shock in the lab.

While this is one of the methods of creating transformants (transformed cells) that researchers use in labs on an everyday basis, a study published in 2001 showed that this occurs naturally too and bacteria can get transformed due to lightning discharges in the soil. Just like, we mentioned that lightning can create or destroy compounds in the environment, this study has shown that lightning might have also aided the evolution of bacteria along the way.

10.   Harvesting the energy from Lightning:

A single bolt of lightning carries approximately 5 billion joules of power, which is sufficient to power a regular household for about a month. Our Earth receives about 1.5 million flashes of lightning every day. This translates to somewhere around a quadrillion joules of power available on an everyday basis, if we manage to capture it all. While this might be technically unfeasible at this point in time, it does offer to potentially be a plentiful resource of energy for one and all.

Some labs have every tried to charge a smartphone using simulated lightning and found that its batteries charge up in a matter of seconds. We can only wonder how quick charging electric cars can be and how revolutionary the technique will be in helping us rid our dependence on fossil fuels.

Alternate Energy Holdings Inc. (AEHI), is testing a method to capture energy from lightning and introduce it for everyday use. However, before this can be commercially feasible, we need a more reliable model to predict where lightning is likely to hit so that we can set up some kind of lightning capture farms.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Do free energy magnetic motors really work?

The internet is rife with websites that promote generators that are capable of providing electricity without using any fuel. Built largely with magnets, these 'free energy generators' promise to cut your electricity bills and provide a much greener alternative to the electricity that is largely generated out of fossil fuels. Elaborate videos that give you estimates of how much money you can save without revealing any details of how to go about it, manage to keep the audience hooked on for a while, but $40 price tag, the loads of freebies and the instant $10 discount for not leaving the page, make the product and its seller highly suspicious. So, we decided to find out if these free energy magnetic motors really work?



The Principle

The magnetic motor works on the simple principle that we all already know, 'Like poles repel each other while opposite poles attract each other'. By arranging the magnets in a fashion where only like poles face each other, one can simply set t…

Generating electricity from flapping tree leaves

As kids, you might have spent many afternoons, under a huge tree, enjoying its shade. In a tropical country like India, trees are a welcome sight in the month of May, when the sun is blazing in the sky and the shade offered by them is a hundred thousand times better than artificial cooling of the air conditioning units. But never in our dream would we have thought that the rustling of the tiny leaves of the trees could one day make electricity for us.Because that requires a Hendersonian moment! (just in a bit)

This brilliant idea has come from the lab of a biophysicist at Iowa State University, Dr. Michael McCloskey, whose work at the University largely involves the study of membrane transport in algae and adult born neurons but also has a background in plant sciences. It was his colleague in the department of genetics, Dr. Eric Henderson who first came up with this plan of harvesting energy from leaves as he wondered how much kinetic energy was being generated when winds blow across l…

5 things driverless cars will do to change our future?

The race for building the world’s first commercially available driverless car is on. Google seems to be leading the pack and in its own charismatic style has been very open about it. Elon Musk’s Tesla is considered the second best with their cars having almost automated the driving process. Tech favourites, Apple also seem to be in the race but everything is under wraps, as of now, and there is not even a hint of what Apple is planning to make, the car, the software or simply make the car accessible with your Apple ID.
Once part of science fiction, driverless cars will soon be a part of our lives and with major automobile manufacturers such as General Motors, Toyota, Ford investing in the technology, prototypes of driverless cars will soon be seen on the roads. Before we get there, a quick review.
The Driverless car
The concept of automated driving has been around for close to a century but progress was slow due to unavailability of technology. For a car to be autonomous, it needs to kno…

Solar cells that work in rain

In case you have read my last month’s guest post about harvesting solar energy in rust, you would be delighted to know that there has been yet another breakthrough in our attempt to harness solar energy.  For many years, solar energy has been targeted for being unavailable at night and during rains. The problem of utilizing solar energy at night can be resolved with the help of metal oxide cells as elaborated in my above post (do read it, if you have not done so already). And now researchers at the Ocean University in China have addressed the second problem and developed solar cells that can actually use rain drops to generate electricity.
Published in the German journal Angewandte Chemie, the paper titled, A Solar Cell Triggered by Sun and Rain, opens a new realm of possibilities when harnessing solar energy. Coating the solar cell with a thin film of graphene allows the cell to function even when it is raining. Graphene is nothing but reduced form of graphite that consists of a hone…

Why Sci-Hub’s story is so crucial to science?

On the 28th of October 2015, Judge Robert Sweet in his ruling at the New York district court declared that the website www.sci-hub.org be blocked with immediate effect and managed to stop hundreds and thousands of researchers and science enthusiasts from accessing the holy grail of today’s science, the research paper.
What should be a simple means to communicate to the world one’s research findings, has become a currency of some sort. A ticket to a researcher’s professional success, a magnet for an investigator to attract funding for his lab and the elusive piece of the puzzle that the publishing group can hold you ransom for, until you cough up some good cash ($30 or above for a single article and thousands of dollars for a bundled annual subscription)
What Judge Sweet termed as a “disservice (to) public interest”, is actually a small website that allows you access to scientific research, old and new, and for free. Sci- Hub. Org, started in 2011, as a trusted place to access research …