Scientists ‘see’ thunder for first time
Map of sound waves sheds light on the energy behind lightning
For the first time, scientists have precisely mapped the loud clap radiating from a lightning strike. This picture of thunder’s origins could reveal the energies involved in powering some of nature’s flashiest light shows.
Lightning strikes when an electric current flows from a negatively charged cloud to the ground. This rapidly heats and expands the surrounding air, creating sonic shock waves. We hear this as thunder.
Scientists have a basic understanding of the origins of thunder. Still, experts have lacked a detailed picture of the physics powering the loud cracks and low rumbles.
Maher Dayeh works at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. As a heliophysicist, he studies the sun and its effects on the solar system, including Earth. He and his colleagues also study lightning — by making their own. These experts trigger the bolts by firing a small rocket into an electrically charged cloud. Trailing behind the rocket is a long, Kevlar-coated copper wire. The lightning travels along that wire to the ground.
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