weather phenomenon involving electrostatic discharge
(Redirected from Thunderbolt)
For the NHL team, see Tampa Bay Lightning
For the World War II fighter, see P-38 Lightning

Lightning is a very powerful electrical discharge made during a thunderstorm. The electric current makes the air very hot. The suddenly heated air expands very quickly, which causes thunder. Sometimes lightning happens between clouds. Sometimes (in the rain) lightning goes from cloud to ground. If it goes from cloud to ground, it can strike a person. Around 2000 people are struck by lightning each year. A few of them are not killed. About 50 to 100 lightning bolts strike the Earth every second.[1][2] Lightning has hit the Empire State Building as many as 500 times a year.

Lightning over Virginia
Lightning strikes the Eiffel Tower, France in 1902.
Lightning usually hits the tallest structure.

When lightning strikes, the surface rubs electrons from the lightning, and a spark of electricity shoots from the lightning to the surface. In a thunderstorm, the lower cloud has as many as 100 million volts of electricity.[1] This electricity is given out either within the cloud, to the ground, to another cloud, or into the air. Lightning has been known to travel from the ground upwards to the cloud. In 1993, scientists discovered lightning bolts that shot upward from the top of a cumulonimbus cloud.[1]

People can make and study lightning with a Tesla coil or a Van de Graaff Generator.

Franklin experiment


Benjamin Franklin experimented with electricity and was interested in lightning. He discovered many things about lightning. In 1772, he was the first to show that a thunderstorm lets out electricity.[1] In his book he suggested an experiment to test it. Joseph Priestley said that Franklin flew a kite to prove the presence of electricity in the storm, using a dry silk string to protect himself from the electricity in the wet hemp kitestring. [2]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Oard, Michael (1997). The Weather Book. P.O. Box 126, Green Forest, AR 72638: Master Books. ISBN 0-89051-211-6.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Lightning".

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