The Science Behind Lightning

By Jonathan Stroz

What is Lightning?

Lightning is a large electrical discharge produced by well-developed thunderstorms, a huge spark followed by a rumbling noise of thunder (Science in context). Lightning can occur within a cloud (inter-cloud), in between clouds (intra-cloud), or the most common form, or from cloud to ground. About 100 lightning bolts strike the earths surface every second.

Cloud to Cloud (intra-cloud) Lightning

Cloud to cloud lightning occurs when the negative part of a cloud discharges its charge with an adjacent cloud, or vice versa.

Cloud to Ground Lightning

A storm cloud is a mix of raindrops and ice particles. Strong upward drafts in the middle of a storm cloud carry smaller ice drops and particles upwards, when this happens gravity causes the larger ice particles to fall. The raindrops, ice particles and the larger ice particles collide. Charges are transferred, and ions which are groups of atoms that have gain or lost elections are formed. The bottom of the cloud has a negative charge. Due to induced charge seperation, the positive charges are attracted to the clouds. When a large enough flow of electrons is within about 100 meters of the ground, a large flow of positive ions called a return stroke, jump from the ground. (ON science 9) Momentarily the humid air becomes a heated conductor from the lightning, this glow, is what you see as lightning,

The Birth of a Lightning Bolt

The Birth of a Lightning Bolt



McGraw Hill Ryerson. "Chapter 10 Electrostatics." ON Science 9. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Web.

Access Science. 4 Feb. 2010. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.