Up In The Clouds- Electrostatics?

The Role of Electrostatics in Generating Lightning

Electrostatics Is Up In The Clouds!

One of the most known and powerful displays of electrostatics in nature is Lightning. It is a giant electrical discharge caused by a transfer of charge. When humid air meets cold air, these masses churn together and the cloud is set for the electrical discharge. Lightning strikes when negative charges at the bottom of the cloud are attracted to positive charges on the ground. Let’s dig deeper to discover how electrostatics is up in the clouds!

Some Types of Lightning

The Creation of Lightning

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-The creation of lightning begins within a storm cloud, with the involvement of cooled cloud droplets, ice crystals and hail.

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-The updraft in the storm cloud carries the cooled cloud droplets and ice crystals upward, and the hail falls down or is suspended in the rising air. When the raindrops, ice particles and hail fall and collide, charge is transferred, and ions (charged atoms that have gained or lost electrons) are formed.

-The upper part of the thunderstorm cloud becomes positively charged while the lower and middle part of the cloud becomes negatively charged.

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-The negative charges in the bottom of the cloud cause charge induction in the ground, forcing away negative charges in the ground, which made the ground attract to the cloud. (positive charges at the surface of the ground).

-When the bottom of the cloud has accumulated enough charges, the positive charges attract and cause the negative electrons to move the cloud closer to the ground.

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-A charged stream called a stepped leader forms when a large flow of negative charge is within 100m of the ground, and a return stroke jumps from the ground (a large flow of positive ions).
-When the two streamers connect, they create a conductive path, and the humid air becomes a conductor, which allows a sudden down surge or electrons to jump to the ground.

This is Lightning!

-These interactions create a glow, which we see as lightning, and causes a shock wave of expanding gas, which is heard as thunder.

A Short, Electrifying Summary!

Theory of Lightning, Rate My Science

References

"Charges at Work." ON Science 9. N.p.: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, 2009. 1-590. Print.
"Electric Fields- Lightning." The Physics Classroom. ComPADRE, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2013. <http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/estatics/u8l4e.cfm>.
"Lightning." Electricalfun.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2013. <http://www.electricalfun.com/lightning.htm>.
"Understanding Lightning: Thunderstorm Electrification." National Weather Service. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2013. <http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/science_electrication.htm>.
Wagon, Joy. "Lightning Physics." N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2013. <http://regentsprep.org/regents/physics/phys03/alightnin/>.

By: Maddie Hanson