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Issue Features
Discovery Magazine 4/1/1992

Lightning

Have you ever pulled off your sweater and heard a crackling sound? Do you get "zapped" when you touch certain things on a dry day? If so, then you are making electricity. Nature makes electricity too. We see it as lightning, and hear it as thunder.

We can understand about electricity, and how it makes lightning, by doing a little experiment. First, try rubbing a balloon with a cloth. Electrons (tiny atomic particles) pass from the cloth to the balloon. The cloth becomespositively charged, and the balloon becomesnegatively charged. The cloth may cling to the balloon, because unlike charges attract.

When a big charge builds up, electricity starts to flow from the balloon to a close object, like your hand. You may feel a sharp prick, see a spark, and hear a little "zap." The spark is the glow of air heated by electricity; the zap is the sound of air expanding from the heat.

Now imagine lightning as a big spark, and look at these pictures to see what happens.(1) Negative charges build up at the base of a storm cloud. (2) Charges zigzag from the cloud to the ground. (3) When the negative charges get within a few hundred feet of the ground, positive charges rise to meet them. (4) When the negative and positive charges meet, a huge electric current flows down along the zigzag path. (5) As the ground charge moves toward the cloud, the air heats up to make the glow of a million 100-watt bulbs. Thunder follows as the air explodes from the sudden, intense heating. Charges keep on flowing until the cloud is rid of its excess negative charge. This whole process happens in less than a second.

We must be careful in a thunderstorm. Lightning kills a hundred people in the United States every year. It is best to stay inside a house or car. If you are outside, crouch low, and avoid water, trees, hilltops, and metal objects.

God has designed some plants to use fires caused by lightning. For instance, the lodgepole pine has two types of seed-carrying cones. One type grows on the trees for two years, and then opens to drop its seeds on the ground. Another type is coated with a strong resin that seals the cone shut. These cones stay on the trees for many years until a hot fire burns off the resin and dries the seeds. The cones then open and spread their seeds on the ground. We have to be careful of lightning; but, it is a very important part of God's creation.



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