Florida Institute of Technology/YouTube

WATCH: This is what lightning looks like at 7,000 frames per second

The might of nature!

JOSH HRALA
10 JUN 2016
 

If you needed more proof of nature's might, look no further. This awesome video, shot on May 20 by physicist Ningyu Liu from the Florida Institute of Technology, records a bolt of lightning at 7,000 frames per second - which means it's slow enough for us to gaze upon every glorious detail.

So what exactly is going on here? Well, lightning is basically an avalanche of electrons (dibs on that band name) that starts inside clouds.

 

Researchers are actually still debating what process inside a cloud actually kicks off the production of this avalanche, but the most commonly cited reason is that the turbulent wind conditions of a storm force positive ions to the top and negative ones to the bottom. This allows an electric field to form between the cloud and the ground. 

When these conditions are met, a small negative channel emerges from the cloud called a 'stepped leader'. This is basically the first little lightning bolt, which you can't really see because it's too faint.

The stepped leader starts working down toward the ground through a series of steps - hence the name - that are roughly 160 feet (50 metres) in length and last roughly one microsecond (0.000001 seconds). 

With each step, the leader is looking for a way to travel to the ground. When it gets close, it repels all of the negative ions away from the strike zone, which starts to create a positive area, the National Weather Service (NWS) explains.

Once the positive charge grows large enough, the leader creates an electrical channel upwards called a 'streamer,' which meets the leader, connecting it to the ground.

As this channel is established, the negative ions can flow into the ground and a wave of electric current goes flying up the beam as well, causing a burst of light. This wave - called an 'upstroke' - is what we know as lightning

A lightning strike like this can produce temperatures up to five times hotter than the Sun's surface. The good news is that you have about a one in 12,000 chance (in your lifetime) of getting hit, and scientists are getting better at predicting them every day.

Still, we wish those odds were higher, especially after watching that video.

More From ScienceAlert