I remember when I was a young child; I would always be scared whenever there was a severe storm outside that included thunder and lightning. This was especially true in the hours of darkness, when you could really see the lightning. As I grew older this so-called fear of lightning turned into a fascination for this weather phenomena. One of my most vivid memories of lightning as a young man was when I was flying to Florida, the plane was at an altitude above a thunderstorm, that was producing heavy lightning, watching the flashing of the lightning popping off as we flew above the clouds, it was one of the most amazing and beautiful things I have ever seen. I believe it was at this point that my fascination with lightning began. To this day I love a good thunderstorm that produces multiple lightning strikes.
In my term paper I will attempt to take an in depth look at lightning, explaining what causes lightning, the ideal conditions that turn a storm into an electrical storm, and attempt to explain just exactly how does lightning work. And explain and/or dispel some of the rumors that surround lightning.
Dictionary.com defines lighting as a brilliant electrical spark discharge in the atmosphere occurring within a thundercloud, between thunderclouds, or between the ground and a cloud (dictionary.com). When there is a great imbalance between positive and negative charges in the atmosphere an electrical discharge takes place, this electrical discharge is classified as lightning. (http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/lightning-profile/)
About 80% of all lightning occurs between clouds, with the other 20% occurring between the ground and clouds. Lighting events also generate a great amount of heat, which can be upwards to five times the temperature of the surface of the sun, or about 54,000 degrees F. It is this rapid heating of the air around the bolt of lightning that produces a shock wave, which in turn becomes a sound wave that we know of as thunder. We all know from basic science classes that light travels faster than sound, using this information we are able to calculate the how far off the lighting is by counting the seconds between when we see the flash of lightning and hear the thunder booming, for approximately every 5 seconds between the flash of light and thunder, the lightning is one mile away. (Ahrens, 2009 P.389) It should be noted that if you see lightning and not hear thunder, it is either because of the lightning is too far away for the sound waves to reach your ears or there are obstacles blocking the sound waves.
In the above paragraph I quoted that lightning is caused when there an imbalance between positive and negative electrical charges in the mature clouds. Now we shall explore how these electrical imbalances occur or take place. The basic concept on how our atmosphere works is the condensation and evaporation of water molecules, when water heats to a certain...