Strokes of cloud-to-ground lightning strike the ocean off of Port-la-Nouvelle in southern France.
High-speed, slow-motion lightning video captured at 6,200 frames per second

Lightning is a natural phenomenon formed by the occurrence of lightning bolts, which are electrostatic discharges through the atmosphere between two electrically charged regions, either both in the atmosphere or with one in the atmosphere and on the ground, temporarily neutralizing these in an almost instantaneous release of an average of one gigajoule of energy.[1][2][3] This discharge may produce a wide range of electromagnetic radiation, from heat created by the rapid movement of electrons, to brilliant flashes of visible light in the form of black-body radiation. Lightning causes thunder, a sound from the shock wave which develops as gases in the vicinity of the discharge experience a sudden increase in pressure. Lightning occurs commonly during thunderstorms as well as other types of energetic weather systems, but volcanic lightning can also occur during volcanic eruptions. Lightning is an atmospheric electrical phenomenon and contributes to the global atmospheric electrical circuit.

The three main kinds of lightning are distinguished by where they occur: either inside a single thundercloud (intra-cloud), between two clouds (cloud-to-cloud), or between a cloud and the ground (cloud-to-ground), in which case it is referred to as a lightning strike.[4][5] Many other observational variants are recognized, including "heat lightning", which can be seen from a great distance but not heard; dry lightning, which can cause forest fires; and ball lightning, which is rarely observed scientifically.

Humans have deified lightning for millennia. Idiomatic expressions derived from lightning, such as the English expression "bolt from the blue", are common across languages. At all times people have been fascinated by the sight and difference of lightning. The fear of lightning is called astraphobia.

The first known photograph of lightning is from 1847, by Thomas Martin Easterly.[6] The first surviving photograph is from 1882, by William Nicholson Jennings,[7] a photographer who spent half his life capturing pictures of lightning and proving its diversity.

  1. ^ Maggio, Christopher R.; Marshall, Thomas C.; Stolzenburg, Maribeth (2009). "Estimations of charge transferred and energy released by lightning flashes in short bursts". Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. 114 (D14): D14203. Bibcode:2009JGRD..11414203M. doi:10.1029/2008JD011506.
  2. ^ "SEVERE WEATHER 101 - Lightning Basics". Retrieved October 23, 2019.
  3. ^ "Lightning Facts". Retrieved October 23, 2019.
  4. ^ "Severe Weather Safety Guide" (PDF). National Weather Service. 2022.
  5. ^ "Lightning Facts". Fast Facts for Kids. 2022.
  6. ^ "The First Photographs of Lightning Crackle with Electric Chaos". Hyperallergic. May 25, 2016. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  7. ^ "These are the World's First Photos of Lightning". PetaPixel. August 5, 2020.