Lightning is a massive electrostatic discharge caused by unbalanced electric charge in the atmosphere, either inside clouds, cloud to cloud or cloud to ground, accompanied by the loud sound of thunder.

A typical cloud to ground lightning strike can be over 5 km (3 mi) long. A typical thunderstorm may have three or more strikes per minute at its peak. Lightning is usually produced by cumulonimbus clouds up to 15 km high (10 mi) high, based 5-6 km (3-4 mi) above the ground. Lightning is caused by the circulation of warm moisture-filled air through electric fields. Ice or water particles then accumulate charge as in a Van de Graaf generator. Lightning may occur during snow storms (thundersnow), volcanic eruptions, dust storms, forest fires or tornadoes. Hurricanes typically generate some lightning, mainly in the rainbands as much as 160 km (100 mi) from the center.

When the local electric field exceeds the dielectric strength of damp air (about 3 million Volts/m), electrical discharge results, often followed by more discharges along the same path. Mechanisms that cause lightning are still a matter of scientific investigation.

Fear of lightning is called astraphobia. The study or science of lightning is called fulminology.

Read more about Lightning:  Frequency and Distribution, Types, Extraterrestrial Lightning

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Famous quotes containing the word lightning:

    ‘Tis said of love that it sometimes goes, sometimes flies; runs with one, walks gravely with another; turns a third into ice, and sets a fourth in a flame: it wounds one, another it kills: like lightning it begins and ends in the same moment: it makes that fort yield at night which it besieged but in the morning; for there is no force able to resist it.
    Miguel De Cervantes (1547–1616)

    O, better that her shattered hulk
    Should sink beneath the wave;
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    And there should be her grave;
    Nail to the mast her holy flag,
    Set every threadbare sail,
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    Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809–1894)

    But the lightning which explodes and fashions planets, maker of planets and suns, is in him. On one side elemental order, sandstone and granite, rock-ledges, peat-bog, forest, sea and shore; and on the other part, thought, the spirit which composes and decomposes nature,—here they are, side by side, god and devil, mind and matter, king and conspirator, belt and spasm, riding peacefully together in the eye and brain of every man.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)