The Franklin Institute's Resources for Science Learning x
Home (Main Navigation - Resources for Science Learning @ The Franklin Institute)For Learners (Main Navigation - Resources for Science Learning @ The Franklin Institute)For Educators (Main Navigation - Resources for Science Learning @ The Franklin Institute)Leadership (Main Navigation - Resources for Science Learning @ The Franklin Institute)Partnership (Main Navigation - Resources for Science Learning @ The Franklin Institute)About Us (Main Navigation - Resources for Science Learning @ The Franklin Institute)

Honorable...

E l e c t r i c   D i s c h a r g e

 
Static Electricity

Opposites attract. That's lightning.

Lightning really is as simple as that. In and around a thunderstorm cloud there are areas of positively charged energy and areas of negatively charged energy. When the oppositely charged areas are near each other, an electrical discharge of energy travels between them. That's lightning.

The cloud areas get their charges as water and ice particles move and interact. Smaller, positively charged particles rise to the top of the cloud, and larger, negatively charged particles gather near the bottom. As soon as the buildup of charge is great enough, the oppositely charged particles attract and discharge their energy as a bolt of lightning.

Watch out below, though, because the excess energy near the bottom of the cloud causes lightning strikes on the ground below. When the electrical charge at the bottom of the thundercloud is strong enough, channels of charged air, called leaders, reach down toward the ground in search of positively charged air. The leaders attract other charged channels, called streamers, up from the ground. When a leader and a streamer meet, the powerful electrical current flows between them, causing the familiar flash of lightning.

Have you ever seen lightning flash from the top of a thunderstorm? Have you ever seen lightning strike horizontally across the sky? Although less common, these are two of the variety of lightning bolts you might see.

 
GO: