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Why does lightning zigzag?

8 December 2022
Astronomy, Electromagnetism

At https://phys.org/news/2022-12-lightning-zigzag-mystery.html … around 8.6 million lightning strikes occur worldwide, every day. Mostly in the tropics. Why does it zigzag – or rather, proceed in a series of steps from the thundercloud to the surface of the earth. The intense electrical fields in thunderclouds excite electrons to have enough energy to create what are known as ‘singlet delta oxygen molecules’. No mention of how the intense electrical field gets into the thundercloud.

These molecules and electrons, we are told, build up to create a short, highly conducting, step, which lights up in intensely for a millionth of a second. At the end of the step there is a pause and the build-up starts up again, followed by another flashing leap, or step. We are then told the excited molecules created in previous steps form a column that will extend from the cloud to the ground. The whole column is then electrically conducting with no requirement of an electric field and little emission of light.

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