Link #97: Lightning Goes Upwards Too!


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Link #97: Lightning Goes Upwards Too!

Lightning is one of the least explained phenomena on Earth. While scientists know how lightning is formed in basic terms, they’re yet to completely understand the process. For instance, if you read our last post on how lightning is five times hotter than the surface of the sun, then you must know how lightning is formed.

Lightning is formed when a region with an excess of negatively charged ions reaches out from the sky and meets a region with a deficit of negatively charged ions reaching out from the ground. However, what truly confuses scientists is when this process is reversed. In other words, lightning can go upwards too and scientists are at a loss to explain it!

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How Can Lightning Go Upwards?

About 1 percent of lightning strikes on Earth go in the opposite direction, i.e., upwards. The reasoning behind upwards lightning is the same as downwards lightning. When a significant enough difference between regions occurs in terms of the charge they contain, electrons flow, and lightning is formed.

The only difference in the case of upward lightning is that the region with lots of negatively charged ions is at the bottom and the region with a deficit of negatively charged ions is on top.

Notably, it is this part of the lightning formation process that confuses the scientists. Till now, scientists have been unable to explain how the region with negatively charged ions expands and compels the region with deficit of negatively charged ions to expand towards it in return.

In any case, when the two regions connect, electrons find an easy path to balance the charge. This causes them to flow which, in turn, causes current to form, and this becomes visible in the form of lightning.


A lightning hitting Suchá Hora transmitter in Central Slovakia as seen from Banská Bystrica. Image credit: EL Caballero, cc3.0

Where Does Upward Lightning Usually Occur?

The curious thing with upward lightning is that it is somehow connected to manmade structures. Why do we say this? We say it because most examples of upward lightning occur with tall manmade structures such as buildings, radio towers, and even wind turbines. In fact, since such structures were built by us, instances of upward lightning have actually grown in number.

There’s something else that can lead to the creation of upward lightning. This is a downward lightning occurring in a nearby location. Basically, what happens is that the downward lightning flash between the cloud and the ground triggers the upward lightning between a manmade structure and the sky.

However, evidence connecting upward lightning with a preceding downward lightning flash isn’t entirely conclusive. Thus, the connection between downward and upward lightning types is still speculative in nature.

Why Do You See Lightning Before You Hear It?


Lightning strikes are almost always accompanied by the sound of thunder. However, you will notice that you always see lightning before you hear the rumbling sound. Have you ever wondered why this happens?

This happens because light travels faster than sound. In other words, the speed of light is significantly faster than the speed of sound. As a result, when the same event creates lightning and the sound of lightning, the light reaches you before the sound.

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