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How Lightning Works?

  • Last Updated : 01 Oct, 2021

It is often seen a bright flash of light in the clouds followed by a sound called thunder. This bright flash of light is known as lightning. Lightning is an electric discharge in the atmosphere that happens when two oppositely charged clouds collide or when a charged cloud collides with the earth. It is caused by electric charges in the atmosphere. 

In the upper edge of the cloud the positive charge is accumulated and in the lower edge of the cloud negative charge is accumulated. Positive charges are also present on the earth’s surface. So when these opposite charges attract each other, then the spark or lightning is observed which is in a way an electric discharge. 

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What are the electrical charges?

Since, an atom contains subatomic particles like electrons, protons, and neutrons. All these particles share a standard property that carries electrical charges. Electrons have an electric charge on them whereas protons have a charge. It is understood that atoms carry a balanced charge, but these charges could typically become out of order. 



An object is referred to as electrically neutral if it’s carrying a balanced proportion of positive and negative charges. An object is termed a charged object if there’s an imbalance of electrons and protons in it.

When two objects are rubbed with one another they get charged due to the transfer of electrons between them. For example, if rubber balloons are rubbed with animal fur, the balloon is formed of rubber attracts the electrons from the animal fur. This leads to rubber having more electrons whereas fur having a shortage of electrons. In an equivalent method, if a plastic comb is rubbed with dry hair the comb acquires some charge.

The strength of an electrical charge depends upon various factors such as the temperature, humidness, and properties of the surface like its material.

Transfer of charges

Charges will transfer from one object to a different with the assistance of physical phenomenon and induction:

  • Conduction: once a charged object comes in reality with a conductor it leads to the transfer of charges through the conductor.
  • Induction: once a charged object is brought close to a neutral object, it leads to shifting within the position of the electrons within the alternative object.
  • The method of induction doesn’t involve any physical contact between the charged and uncharged object whereas the method of the physical phenomenon needs physical contact between them.

Now, let’s see the story of lightning.

Story of Lightning

  1. When a thunderstorm happens, the air currents move upwards, and the water droplets move downward as shown below:

      

Movement during thunderstorm

          2. The sudden movement of air currents causes the separation of charges in the atmosphere.

          3. As a result, positive charges accumulate near the cloud’s upper edges, while negative charges accumulate near the cloud’s lower edges as shown below:



Accumulation of charges on the upper and lower edge of the cloud

           4. Positive charges accumulate above the ground as well shown below:

Accumulation of positive charges above the ground

             5. When negative and positive charges collide, bright light and sound are made. As it is known air is a poor conductor of electricity but when the magnitude of charges becomes high, the air doesn’t resist the flow of the charges, Hence positive and negative charges being the opposite charge, attract each other, and streaks of light are formed. 

             6. Streaks appear to the observers like lightning and so the process is named electric discharge,

The collision of positive and negative charges leading to the appearance of streak called lightning

              7. Lightning is caused by an electric discharge between clouds or between clouds and the earth.

So it is understood that, Lightning is an electric discharge in the atmosphere that happens when two oppositely charged clouds collide or when a charged cloud collides with the earth. It is caused by electric charges in the atmosphere. 

Lightning might destroy the property and life, so preventive measures need to be taken. 

Preventive Measures for Lightning

Since during lightning no open places are safe, so it is important to find a safe place. Once you hear the sound of thunder you shall rush to a house or shop which is a safe place. Car or any vehicle is also a safe place so while traveling you are safe.

Situation 1: Outside the house

  • Open vehicles such as motorbikes, tractors, and construction machinery are not safe.
  • Do not protect yourself under tall trees, open fields, a shelter your home in parks as they are quite unsafe during lightning.
  • Never carry an umbrella when lightning is happening.
  • In case if you are in a forest or an open field hide under trees or any metal object. Instead, squat low on the ground.
  • Try staying away from poles and metal objects.

Situation 2: Inside the house

  • Try to stay away from the telephone wires in the house. Instead, use phones or cordless telephone Also, prevent going near the metal pipes in the house.
  • High electrical appliances such as computers, TV, fridges should be plugged off.
  • One should avoid bathing at this time to avoid contact with running water as running water might have an electric charge in it.

One can make their house safer by using lightning conductors. The lightning conductors help to pass the charges to earth and make the building safe for people who are staying in it. 

However, the protection in buildings is done using lightning conductors. A lightning conductor is a device used to protect buildings from the effect of lightning. During construction, a metallic rod taller than the building is positioned in the building’s walls. The rod’s one end is held in the open, while the other is buried deep underground. The rod provides a convenient path for electric charges to be transferred to the ground. Metal columns, electrical cables, and water pipes used during construction all help to protect us to some degree.



Sample Problems 

Problem 1: Who discovered the static electricity or lightning in clouds and when?

Solution: 

A scientist named Benjamin Franklin in 1752 discovered the static electricity or lightning in clouds.

Problem 2: What happens when two clouds with unlike charges approach each other?

Solution: 

When two clouds with unlike charges approach each other, lightning strikes.

Problem 3: What actually causes lightning?

Solution: 

Lightning is caused by the accumulation of charges in the clouds.

Problem 4: What are the harmful effects of lightning on a lightning victim?

Solution: 

When lightning hits a tree, it can burn it up and cause major electrical damage. When a person is struck by lightning during a thunderstorm, the electric energy travels through his or her body, causing serious burns and eventually death.

Problem 5: Suggest three measures to protect ourselves from lightning.

Solution: 

Three measures of protection are:            

(i) Stay under the covered area or inside the room.            

(ii) One should not use T or phone during lightning.            

(iii) One should not take bath during lightning.

Problem 6: Explain about the device that is used to protect buildings from lightning.

Solution:

A lightning conductor is a device used to protect buildings from the effect of lightning. During construction, a metallic rod taller than the building is positioned in the building’s walls. The rod’s one end is held in the open, while the other is buried deep underground. The rod provides a convenient path for electric charges to be transferred to the ground. Metal columns, electrical cables, and water pipes used during construction all help to protect us to some degree.

Problem 7: Discuss the sparks that Greeks knew about.

Solution:

The Greeks were already responsive to the electrical charges from 600 B.C. They knew that once Amber (a variety of organic compounds or an artificial polymer) and fur square measure rubbed along, then amber will attract lightweight objects like hair. Similarly, woolen garments or polyester garments additionally attract hair and may turn out a touch spark or crepitation sound after the square measure began from the body. This is often attributable to electrical charges. Benjamin Franklin was a yank mortal World Health Organization in 1752 discovered and established that lightning and spark made from these garments square measure all same things.




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