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The amount of potential energy between two points on a circuit.

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Extreme Electrical Discharge

Extreme Electrical Discharge

Credit: Thomas Bresson
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36519414@N00/3566015456/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

During a storm, the lightning streaks that arc across the sky or strike the Earth are a result of a massive electrical discharge. 

Amazing But True

Credit: Anthony Quintano
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/quintanomedia/9332153384/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

A cloud to ground lightning strike [Figure2]

  • There are three different types of lightning: Cloud-to-Cloud, Intra-Cloud and Cloud-to-Ground. Humans are most affected by cloud-to-ground lighting, as it can be dangerous when it make contact with the ground.
  • Lighting occurs when a warm and cold air mass mix, resulting in polarization of the atmosphere. When there is a sufficiently large electric potential between the cloud and the ground, a lightning bolt can be seen as the electric charge is transferred from the cloud to the ground.
  • Some natural observations associated with lighting are discussed below:
    • The rolling thunder that is often heard is a result of the shock waves from the lightning bolt originating from along the whole lighting bolt rather that a single point.
    • If thunder is heard 5 seconds after a lightning flash is seen, this tells you that the strike was approximately 1 mile away.
    • Lightning has been observed on other planets.
    • One of the earliest known lightning detectors was invented by Andrew Gordon. It consisted of a conducting rod and two metal bells.
  • Watch a lightning strike in slow motion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLWIBrweSU8

Explore More

Using the information provided above, answer the following questions.

  1. Why does lighting occur?
  2. Why is there sometimes a delay between seeing a lightning bolt and hearing it?
  3. Some people that have been struck by lightning have reported a tingling feeling in their body before the strike. What explain this? 

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Thomas Bresson; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36519414@N00/3566015456/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Anthony Quintano; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/quintanomedia/9332153384/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0


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