Thunder and lightning | What is a bolt of lightning?
Thunder and lightning

Thunder and lightning

Lightning is only a few centimetres in diameter but has a brightness equivalent to 1 million 100-watt bulbs per metre and a temperature of up to 30,000 degrees.

The sudden increase in temperature forces the air to expand explosively. This air expansion is what we hear as thunder. The electric current can reach several hundred thousand ampere and the voltage millions of volts.

The whole process occurs within a couple of hundred microseconds, so the energy in the electricity flowing to Earth is very limited even though the effect is large. Most lightning bolts are an electric flow of negative charges from clouds to the Earth.

What cannot be seen with the naked eye is the ‘pre-lightning’. The pre-lightning is a charged channel that develops from the cloud towards the Earth in a fraction of a second before the eventual discharge. From the Earth or the surface of the Earth, small charges are released towards the clouds. This is one of the factors that determine where the lightning is going to ‘strike’.

When the lightning strikes, the channel is emptied of charges from the Earth towards the cloud, which looks like it strikes from down to up. Thunder is formed by the electricity that is charged in the thunder clouds.

This needs special weather conditions in which a mass of air with a certain amount of water rises in the air. The air mass is cooled so quickly that it releases a huge amount of energy (heat) that once again, through compression, intensifies the upwards movement in the cloud.

On this occasion, the sun acts as the source of energy.

 

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