Lightning is the occurrence of a natural electrical discharge of very short duration and high voltage between a cloud and the ground or within a cloud, accompanied by a bright flash and typically also thunder. From this discharge of atmospheric electricity, a bolt of lightning can travel at speeds up to 140,000 mph, and can reach temperatures approaching 54,000 °F.

History of Lightning

Lightning has been a natural occurrence around the world ever since the earth formed an atmosphere so there is no specific date that lightning itself was discovered. Though many began to perform experiments with the phenomenon in order to gain a better understanding of what exactly it is. In Philadelphia Ben Franklin performed his famous kite experiment during the year 1752. On his end of the string he attached a key, and he tied it to a post with a silk thread. As time passed, Franklin noticed the loose fibers on the string stretching out; he then brought his hand close to the key and a spark jumped the gap. The rain which had fallen during the storm had soaked the line and made it conductive. Experiments such as this over time helped us to finally figure out today all of the different properties of lightning and what makes it occur.


Application of Lightning

Since the 1980s there have been several attempts to investigate the possibility of harvesting energy from lightning. While a single bolt of lightning carries a huge amount of energy, this energy is concentrated in a small location and is passed during an extremely short period of time. Therefore, extremely high electrical power is involved. It has been proposed that the energy contained in lightning be used to generate hydrogen from water, or to harness the energy from rapid heating of water due to lightning. A technology capable of harvesting lightning energy would need to be able to rapidly capture the high power involved in a lightning bolt. Several schemes have been proposed, but the ever-changing energy involved in each lightning bolt render lightning power harvesting from ground based rods impractical - too high, it will damage the storage, too low and it may not work.


  1. Beiser, A. (1988). Physical Science (2nd Edition). New York, NY: McGraw Hill
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightning
  3. The lightning Book by Peter E. Viemeister

This WikiPage developed by Michael Hughes Fall 2011