If you’ve ever paid attention to the sky during a thunderstorm, you know that lightning never strikes the ground in a straight line. The fall of these electrical discharges, which can reach 50,000 degrees Celsius, form irregular lines that constantly change direction, almost tortuous.
But why does this happen? Science still does not know the exact cause. However, there are indeed some possibilities. One of them was addressed in a recent study by Professor John Locke, a research associate at the University of South Australia in the field of meteorological phenomena.
According to his research published in the journal IOP Science, the meandering of the rays, which he calls “steps,” is the result of something he calls the aggregation of “single oxygen delta molecules.” That is, an unstable (completely unstable) state that changes due to the presence of electrons.
This strange type of oxygen will be created inside rain clouds due to the intense electromagnetic fields present, capable of stimulating electrons in a way that eventually gives rise to these molecules.
Like lightning is born
Lightning is currents of thousands of amperes that cross the sky towards the ground. They occur when storm clouds with electrical potentials of millions of volts contact the ground through the air.
One cloud produces four or five rays – what Loki calls “leaders,” which we will translate as pointers. These directed beams, invisible to the naked eye, descend to Earth one at a time in a zigzag pattern. The first beam to hit the ground becomes the conventional beam, while the others go out.
“You are [raios] The indicators go down in steps of about 50 meters (164 ft) long. Each step becomes bright for a millionth of a second, but then there is almost complete darkness.” Conversation. And this darkness, that is, imperceptible to the human eye, because our impression is that the rays are successive, without stopping between them.
Each step takes only 50 millionths of a second. After that, there is a very short pause and a new one is formed, and the beam continues. At this moment the magnetic electrons and oxygen molecules interact, forming what are called “delta single oxygen molecules”.
According to Lowke, every step glows because the shaft is able to conduct electricity. When it finishes flashing, it gives way to the next light, and so on, repeatedly, until the beam hits the ground.
Orphan electrons and excited particles
Well, degrees are groupings of particles that conduct electricity. But why are these oxygen molecules so special that they make this effect?
If you remember your high school chemistry class, you know that atoms of elements bond with each other to share electrons and form stable molecules. Well, inside the charged cloud, we have oxygen (air) and electrons.
After a certain point, the electrons build up enough energy to force the oxygen molecules into becoming what are called delta units.
When this happens, the oxygen electrons are forced away from the atoms (negative ions). These ions are then spontaneously replaced by negatively charged electrons.
This doesn’t happen in the entire cloud, but it only takes about 1% of the oxygen molecules within it to be in a singleton delta state for the lightning to start — and the air to gain the ability to conduct electricity.
In about 50 millionths of a second, enough particles of this type are formed to create a step. Then, those orphan electrons from their atoms conduct electricity and light up the step.
After that, there is a period of darkness. At this point, the concentration of delta singletons increases again to form the next step, and so on.
The entire column is electrically conductive, Lowke recalls, with no electric field required and negligible light emission.
Why is the study important?
The researcher comments that understanding how lightning works is absolutely essential to thinking about, for example, how we design Best lightning rods.
“The increase in extreme weather events means that lightning protection is becoming more and more important,” Lockey said. “Knowing how lightning starts means we can learn how to better protect buildings, aircraft and people.”
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