What Makes Lightning?

Most of the more amazing processes in nature involve such complex processes that our brain sort of turn off when we try to learn about them. However, learning a little bit at a time, you can build up a pretty huge knowledge base. To help you do this, we’ve put together a basic explanation of what makes lightning strike:

lightning over black backdrop




How Lightning Strikes:

In thunder clouds (usually cumulonimbus) the water molecules inside the cloud constantly collide with themselves. This friction has the same effect your feet do when they rub into a carpet with socks on; they create electrical charges. For reasons we don’t entirely fathom, positive charges make their way to the upper portion of the cloud and negative charges go to the bottom. 

When enough of these charges come together, they create an electric field. This field does two things; first, it pushes away the negative charges from the ground, giving it a positive charge. Next, it creates a “step leader”, basically ionized air (or plasma), that creates a path for the electrical current we call lightning.


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