Lightning

Strokes of cloud-to-ground lightning during a thunderstorm.
High-speed, slow-motion lightning video captured at 6,200 frames per second.
Cloud-to-ground lightning in Maracaibo-Venezuela

Lightning is a sudden electrostatic discharge that occurs typically during a thunderstorm. This discharge occurs between electrically charged regions of a cloud (called intra-cloud lightning or IC), between two clouds (CC lightning), or between a cloud and the ground (CG lightning).

The charged regions in the atmosphere temporarily equalize themselves through this discharge referred to as a flash. A lightning flash can also be a strike if it involves an object on the ground. Lightning creates light in the form of black body radiation from the very hot plasma created by the electron flow, and sound in the form of thunder. Lightning may be seen and not heard when it occurs at a distance too great for the sound to carry as far as the light from the strike or flash.

Electrification

The main charging area in a thunderstorm occurs in the central part of the storm where air is moving upward rapidly (updraft) and temperatures range from −15 to −25 °C (5 to −13 °F)

The details of the charging process are still being studied by scientists, but there is general agreement on some of the basic concepts of thunderstorm electrification. The main charging area in a thunderstorm occurs in the central part of the storm where air is moving upward rapidly (updraft) and temperatures range from −15 to −25 °C (5 to −13 °F), see figure to the right. At that place, the combination of temperature and rapid upward air movement produces a mixture of super-cooled cloud droplets (small water droplets below freezing), small ice crystals, and graupel (soft hail). The updraft carries the super-cooled cloud droplets and very small ice crystals upward. At the same time, the graupel, which is considerably larger and denser, tends to fall or be suspended in the rising air.[1]

When the rising ice crystals collide with graupel, the ice crystals become positively charged and the graupel becomes negatively charged.

The differences in the movement of the precipitation cause collisions to occur. When the rising ice crystals collide with graupel, the ice crystals become positively charged and the graupel becomes negatively charged. See figure to the left. The updraft carries the positively charged ice crystals upward toward the top of the storm cloud. The larger and denser graupel is either suspended in the middle of the thunderstorm cloud or falls toward the lower part of the storm.[1]

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

The result is that the upper part of the thunderstorm cloud becomes positively charged while the middle to lower part of the thunderstorm cloud becomes negatively charged.[1]

The upward motions within the storm and winds at higher levels in the atmosphere tend to cause the small ice crystals (and positive charge) in the upper part of the thunderstorm cloud to spread out horizontally some distance from thunderstorm cloud base. This part of the thunderstorm cloud is called the anvil. While this is the main charging process for the thunderstorm cloud, some of these charges can be redistributed by air movements within the storm (updrafts and downdrafts). In addition, there is a small but important positive charge buildup near the bottom of the thunderstorm cloud due to the precipitation and warmer temperatures.[1]

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asturianu: Rayu
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bosanski: Munja
català: Llamp
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čeština: Blesk
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emiliàn e rumagnòl: Silta
español: Rayo
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français: Foudre
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ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ/inuktitut: ᑲᓪᓕᑕᖅ
íslenska: Elding
italiano: Fulmine
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magyar: Villám
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Bahasa Melayu: Kilat
မြန်မာဘာသာ: လျှပ်ပြက်ခြင်း
Nederlands: Bliksem
Nedersaksies: Weerlucht
नेपाली: चट्याङ
日本語:
norsk: Lyn
norsk nynorsk: Lyn
Nouormand: Êpart
occitan: Eslhauç
ଓଡ଼ିଆ: ବିଜୁଳି
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Chaqmoq
پنجابی: اسمانی بجلی
ភាសាខ្មែរ: ផ្លេតបន្ទោរ
polski: Piorun
română: Fulger
Runa Simi: Lliphi
русский: Молния
संस्कृतम्: विद्युत्
shqip: Vetëtima
සිංහල: අකුණු
Simple English: Lightning
slovenčina: Blesk
slovenščina: Strela
Soomaaliga: Biriq
српски / srpski: Munja
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Munja
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Zazaki: Bilusk
žemaitėška: Žaibs
中文: 闪电