What are lightning and how are they produced?

Thunder and lightning

Storms are something that many people have been afraid of since they were little. Lightning and thunder are fantastic to see, although sometimes unpleasant to hear. There are numerous types of lightning that cause serious damage depending on where they strike. However, many people do not know what the Ray and how they are produced.

For this reason, we are going to dedicate this article to telling you what lightning is, how it is produced and what types there are.

what is lightning

lightning formation

The discharge caused by lightning is accompanied by the emission of light. This emission of light is called lightning and is produced by the passage of an electric current that ionizes the air molecules. Later, people hear a sound called thunder, which develops from the shock wave. The generated electricity travels through the atmosphere, rapidly heating the air and creating the characteristic noise of the ground. Lightning is in the plasma state.

The average length of lightning is about 1.500-500 meters. Interestingly, in 2007, the longest lightning strike on record struck Oklahoma with a length of 321 miles. Lightning generally travels at an average speed of about 440 kilometers per second and can reach speeds of up to 1400 kilometers per second. The potential difference with respect to earth is millions of volts. Therefore, these rays are highly dangerous. There are approximately 16 million thunderstorms on Earth each year.

Normally, among the different types of lightning, they are produced by positive particles on the ground and negative particles in the clouds. This is due to the vertical development of clouds called cumulonimbus clouds. When a cumulonimbus cloud reaches the tropopause (the terminal region of the troposphere), the cloud's positive charge is responsible for attracting the negative charge. The movement of this charge through the atmosphere is what causes lightning to occur. It usually creates a back and forth effect. It refers to the vision in which the particles rise momentarily and return causing the fall of light.

Lightning can produce a million watts of instantaneous power, comparable to a nuclear explosion. The branch of meteorology that deals with the study of lightning and everything related to it is called ceramics.

lightning formation

how rays are formed

How the download starts is still a matter of debate. Scientists have not yet been able to determine what the root cause is. The most notable are those who say that atmospheric disturbances are responsible for the origin of types of lightning. These disturbances in the atmosphere are due to changes in wind, humidity, and atmospheric pressure. There is also talk of the effects of the solar wind and the accumulation of charged solar particles.

Ice is considered a key component of development. This is because it is responsible for facilitating the separation of positive and negative charges within cumulonimbus clouds. Lightning can also occur in ash clouds from volcanic eruptions, or as a result of static-generating dust from violent wildfires.

In the hypothesis of electrostatic induction, we argue that electrical charges are driven by processes that humans are not yet sure of. The separation of charges requires a strong upward current, which is responsible for carrying the water drops upwards. That way, when the water droplets reach a higher level, the cooler surrounding air speeds up the cooling. As usual, these droplets are subcooled to temperatures of -10 and -20 degrees. Ice crystals collide to form a mixture of water and ice called hail. The collisions that occur cause a slight positive charge to be transferred to the ice crystals and a slight negative charge to the hailstones.

The current pushes the lighter ice crystals up, causing a positive charge to build up at the back of the cloud. Finally, the gravitational pull of the Earth is what causes the hailstones to fall negatively charged, since the hailstones are heavier towards the center and bottom of the cloud. The separation and accumulation of charge continues until the potential is sufficient to initiate the discharge.

Another hypothesis about the polarization mechanism has two components. Let's see what they are:

  • Falling ice and water drops they become electrically polarized as they pass through the electric field nature of the Earth.
  • The falling ice particles collide and are charged by electrostatic induction.

Lightning Types


As we mentioned before, there are different types of rays with specific characteristics. The most common type of lightning is the most commonly seen and is known as streak lightning. This is the visible part of the ray tracing. Most of them occur in the clouds and are therefore invisible. Let's see what are the main types of lightning:

  • Cloud-to-ground lightning: It is the best known and the second most common. It is the greatest threat to life and property. It was able to hit the Earth and discharge an electrical discharge between the cumulonimbus cloud and the Earth.
  • Pearl Lightning: A type of cloud-to-ground lightning that appears to break into a series of short, bright segments.
  • flashing lightning: This is another type of cloud-to-ground lightning that is short-lived and appears to be just a flash. It is usually very bright and has quite large branches.
  • forked lightning bolts: Those lightning bolts that present a bifurcation in their trajectory from cloud to ground.
  • Ground-cloud lightning: It is an electrical discharge between the earth and a cloud, beginning with an initial upward shock. It is one of the rarest to appear.
  • Cloud to cloud lightning: It occurs between areas that are not in contact with the ground. This usually happens when two separate clouds create a potential difference.

I hope that with this information you can learn more about what lightning is and how it is formed.

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