Link #96: Lightning Is Five Times Hotter Than the Surface of the Sun!



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Link #96: Lightning Is Five Times Hotter Than the Surface of the Sun!

Lightning by sethink, PD image.

If we were to ask you what the hottest thing in the universe is, you would most probably say a star. You would be partly right and partly wrong. For instance, you would be right because nothing is hotter in the universe than the core of a star.

In fact, the greater the pressure in the core of the star, the greater the heat generated. Neutron stars, which we spoke about in our last post, are some of the hottest stars in the universe.

However, when it comes to the surface of stars, most pale in comparison to something on our own planet. What does our planet have that is hotter than the surface of stars like the sun? It’s lightning!

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Is Lightning Really Hotter Than the Surface of the Sun?

Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO, cc2.0

Lightning is, indeed, hotter than the surface of the sun. Typically, lightning reaches temperatures of about 53,540 degrees Fahrenheit while the surface of the sun is only as hot as 10,340 degrees Fahrenheit.

This means that lightning on Earth is about five times hotter than the surface of the sun. If you want a much more practical understanding of how intense a lightning strike can be, consider the fact that a lightning strike generates as much energy as one ton of TNT!

This is a huge difference, but it needs to be taken in the context of the situation. For example, what you most probably don’t know is that the surface of the sun is easily its coolest layer. The layer just above the surface of the sun is as hot as 900,000 degrees Fahrenheit while its core is even hotter at 27 million degrees Fahrenheit.

How Is Lightning Formed?

Before you understand how lightning is formed, you need to know that at the end of the day, the energy that lightning possesses is also drawn from the sun. The formation of lightning is due to a series of events. These sequential events begin when the sun heats up the surface of the Earth. This causes temperatures to vary between different regions.

Because of this, warm air rises upwards and can reach great heights. When this warm air reaches enough height and there’s moisture in the air, ice crystals are formed. These water formations then become ionised.

The lighter crystals become positively charged and continue rising while the heavier crystals become negatively charged and start falling due to gravity. The differently charged regions of air result in the air particles getting ionised too.

When the difference is great enough, electrons travel from the positively charged regions to the negatively charged regions. Since electricity is the transfer of electrons, this causes lightning to form. When the travelling electrons reach their destination, a balance of charges or neutralisation is obtained.

How Much Lightning Occurs on Earth?

Thunderstorm in Sydney, Australia. Image credit: Patriiick, cc3.0

At any point in time, Earth is witnessing about 2,000 thunderstorms at one place or another. Each thunderstorm creates about 100 lightning strikes on an average. This means that our planet witnesses approximately eight million lightning bolts on a daily basis.

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