Lightning Heats Up to 53,000 F


Two scientists analyzed fossils left by an ancient lightning to determine its energy and temperature.

Researchers discovered that the lightning could heat up the atmosphere to a temperature of over 53,000 degrees Fahrenheit, being as powerful as 20 cars put together and having a speed of 60 miles per hour.

Two researchers from the South Florida School of Geoscientists and the Independent Geological Sciences have discovered a new method to measure the energy deployed by a cloud-to-ground lightning.

The issue had been an enigma for many decades. The physicists managed to produce lightning in nature by firing rockets into thunderclouds, attaching wires that would lead the energy to the ground. Then, they used instruments to measure the temperature and the electrical current intensity of their artificial bolts.

The new method involves geology. The scientists analyzed 250 samples of fulgurites from Polk County, Florida. The lightning in question hit the state more than a thousand years ago. The site is famous for its bolts.

The fulgurite is the glass that is formed after the lightning strikes quartz and rocks.

“When lightning strikes the sand, it may generate a cylindrical tube of glass called a fulgurite. The structure of the fulgurite, created by the energy and heat in a lightning strike, can tell us a lot about the nature of the strike, particularly about the amount of energy in a single bolt of lightning,” explained Professor Matthew Pasek.

By measuring the length and the circumference of the glass, the researchers made approximations on the amount of energy that led to their creation.

The results of the study may help people to measure the potential damage that could be created by lightning.

The two geologists say that a lightning strike produces an amount of energy of more than 20MJ/m, where 1 MJ/m would be the power of a car traveling at 60 miles per hour crashing into a place as large as the diameter of a person’s little finger.

At that speed, the scientists estimate that the bolt created ten fulgurites per second.

Another result of their measurements was that the temperature of the air surrounding the strike would be of more than 53,000 degrees Fahrenheit, five times the temperature of the surface of the Sun. The expansion of the temperature is the reason for the thunder created later.

The fulgurites are formed after the bolt heats the sand, rock, and clay to above its vaporizing level.

The study is a novelty because the scientists discovered a new method to obtain information on the lightning’s power, which led to interesting estimates of force and temperature that may be further used in the study of bolts.

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