Researchers at the Florida Institute of Technology had an awesome day on the field with their 7,000 frames per second high-speed cameras. They set their gear near the university’s Melbourne campus and waited for the thunderstorm show to work its magic.
To the naked eye, a lightning bolt comes and goes in a flash. But technology comes to the rescue, and this brilliant video shows just how intensely intricate a lightning strike can be as it discharges massive amounts of energy. The playback speed of the video is 700 fps.
What is lightning
How lightning forms
Every day, some four million lightning strikes hit the surface of the planet. Despite this, how lightning – and subsequently thunder – is formed is not completely understood at a physical level. We know one thing for sure: it comes from clouds (dust, water and ice). Ice inside the cloud rubs against each other becoming electrically polarized or charged (the exact mechanism is a bit fuzzy, which is why the whole thing is debatable). The lighter ice will move upwards while the heavier ice will stay below separating the negative and positive charges.
Just like the cloud, because there’s a lot of charge hovering around, the air below the clouds also become ionized. In turn, the ionized air charges air particle further below in a cascading effect until it eventually reaches the ground. This happens very quickly, and the sections of ionized air look very much like electrical sparks or the static electricity released when you rub your sweater against a balloon. The ground is very conductive compared to air, and will give up a large amount of electric charge into this completed circuit (between the ground and the cloud) — this is called the return stroke and is basically what you see as lightning. This ionizes the air completely between the ground and the cloud, and this is the part you can see for miles around.