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Lightning Exploration

In this guided Web exploration you'll discover:

  • What causes lightning.
  • Different types of lightning.
  • How to estimate the distance of a thunderstorm,
  • How often your area is struck by lightning.


In 1752, Ben Franklin performed one of the most famous scientific experiments of all time. He and his son William flew a homemade kite with a metal key into the dark threatening clouds of a Pennsylvania thunderstorm. Then, as lightning struck, electrical current steamed down the damp kite string. He watched sparks fly when he touched his knuckle to the key, which was tied near the bottom of the string. (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/features/96/lightning/3d.html). While Franklin proved that lightning was an electrical charge, he was very fortunate. He could have been killed! In fact, a Swedish scientist was killed the next year doing a similar experiment.

Much of the science of lightning is still a mystery. But scientists are learning quickly. More has been learned in the past five to six years than in the preceding two hundred forty six years since Ben and William flew their homemade kite. We know, for instance, that a single lightning bolt has enough energy to power one million 100 watt light bulbs for a week! http://www.lightningsafety.com/nlsi_info/weather_factoids.html

Let's take a closer look at one of natures most powerful forces. Below are a series of questions to guide your lightning explorations. To find the answers to each of these questions, click on the links below.

What causes lightning?

What causes thunder?

What different types of lightning are there? How are these forms of lightning different?

How would you estimate the distance between yourself and a ligtning flash?

What is the key ingredient of every thunderstorm?

How often do you think your area is struck by lightning? During what part of the day do lightning strikes usually occur?


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