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Physics of Lightning

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Alexander Neumayer

on 5 May 2016

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Transcript of Physics of Lightning



Physics of Lightning
The static charge in clouds is built up through two methods.

The first is friction between the water droplets that are moving within the clouds.

Water that has evaporated from the earth collides with the water droplets in the clouds. Electrons are then separated from the rising molecules during the collision.
Build up of a Static Charge
At high altitudes water begins to freeze. When the water droplets freeze they become polarized, the inner frozen section gains a negative charge and the liquid outer section gains a positive charge.

The high wind speeds within clouds separates the sections, the negatively charged frozen droplets falling towards the bottom of the cloud and the positive liquid sections move to the upper region of the cloud
Build up of a Static Charge
The electric field generated by the electrons within the clouds repel the electrons that are in the ground below, creating a positive charge on the surface of the earth.

Normally the air is an insulator, but the large charge of the cloud can transform the air into plasma, a conductor.
Electric Field
A few of the electrons at the bottom of the cloud leave towards the earth in a zigzagging path, as the electrons travel through the air, the air takes on a purple hue, a characteristic of ionized air.

Once the stepladder nears the ground the remaining electrons in the cloud travel through the same path. This second wave of electrons causes even more protons to rise to the earth's surface, an even known as a streamer.

Once the streamer and the stepladder make contact the actual lightning strike begins. Secondary strikes can follow the first, appearing as a singular lightning strike.
Stepladder and Streamer
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