|Can you remember the first time you ever saw a
lightning bolt in a dark, stormy sky? The awesome power of a
lightning strike is etched into your memory. Without
scientific understanding, lightning is frightening.
|Early cultures relied on myth and magic to
explain lightning and to ease their fears.The ancient
Greeks, for example, believed that the king of all the
gods, Zeus, threw lightning down from the heavens to show
his anger at the people below. Lightning was his weapon.
|As the study of weather science progressed,
people stopped thinking of lightning as a punishment from
the gods. It wasn't until the 1700s, though, that science
really began to understand lightning.
|Benjamin Franklin was one of the first
lightning scientists. In 1752, he performed his legendary
kite experiment. During a thunderstorm, he tied a metal key
to the end of a kite string and set his kite flying in the
storm's winds. When sparks jumped from the electrified key,
he knew that electrical current had travelled from the
electrified air above down the kite string to his key. He
had suspected that lightning was actually a natural form of
electricity. With the experiment, he was able to conclude
that lightning was an electrical current.
|In the years that followed, scientists learned
more and more about lightning. Although there is no
completely safe way to avoid a lightning strike, scientists
tested theories to provide some protection.
|In the 1970s, meteorologists and other
scientists developed lightning detection networks. Today,
they can track lightning strikes all over the country using
the National Lightning Detection Network which uses magnetic
sensors and computers to detect when and where lightning strikes the
ground. Lightning data is instantly provided to
meteorologists for analysis.
|Lightning is still frightening because of its
ferocious power. Lightning is classified as plasma, the fourth state of
matter. So, stay out of its way.
Sprites and Elves: Lightning's Strange Cousins