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Scientists Measure Lightning Energy With Fossils

Aug 04, 2016 03:45 AM EDT

Researchers at University of South Florida School of Geosciences have developed a way to measure energy in lightning; they use fossils.

University of South Florida School of Geosciences Associate Professor Matthew Pasek and his co-researcher Marc Hurst from Independent Geological Sciences, Inc. Were the people behind the innovation that measures the amount of energy generated by a lightning bolt, Science Daily has learned.

Pasek revealed that the amount of energy in a lightning strike is one of the more vital things to measure. As per the assistant professor, the measurements were often estimations, although atmospheric researchers can figure out estimated amounts of lightning bolt energy through the lightning bolt's electrical current and temperature.

Previous works measured the energy in lightning during a strike, but Pasek and Hurst were the first to use geology "after-the-fact" research to do the same. In their study, the measured the energy in a bolt of lightning that hit Florida's sand thousand of years ago.

In a statement, as cited by ZME Science, Pasek said that when lightning struck the sand, it might generate a cylindrical tube of glass called a fulgurite. He said that its structure had been created by the energy and heat in a lightning strike and it could tell them a lot about the nature of the strike, specifically about the amount of energy in a lightning bolt.

The researchers gathered over 250 fulgurites, which varied in terms of age, from the sand mines in Polk County, Florida. The site is known to have been hit by lightning for may years and such details let Pasek and Hurst to measure lightning bolt history in an area proximal to Orlando and Tampa.

Pasek also explained that lightning bolts could heat the air around the bolt to over 30,000 degrees Kelvin, which is equivalent to more than 53,000 degrees Fahrenheit. As per the researcher, such temperature led to a fast expansion, which could be better appreciated as thunder.

Pasek and Hurst learned that lightning strike highest energy values are more than 20MJ/m, which is equal to 20 cars crashing into the diameter of a person's little finger at the same time.

As per Pasek, about one-fourth of the lightning strikes occurred from a cloud to the ground; thus, the fulgrite-forming potential was great, with up to 10 fulgrites formed per second on a global scale.

Know more about lightning energy here.

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