Science Questions

When lightning hits water does it create a splash?

Sun, 13th Jan 2008

Part of the show Naked Science Q&A Show

Question

Robert Sullivan asked:

Iíve always wondered, when lightning hits water does it go with a splash? Iíve asked several of my professors and none seem to have the answer.

Answer

We answered this along with Bill Gettys' question...

When lightning hits water, it suddenly dumps a huge amount of energy into the bit of water itís hitting Ė so very close to where itís hit it will form steam.  When lightning hits sand it releases so much energy it causes sand to melt and turn into glass.  It would probably vapourise the water near where itís hit and cause a bubble of steam which probably will cause a splash.

If youíre swimming and lightning hits a lake it is actually very, very dangerous.  If lightning hits the middle of a lake water has got some salts in it so it will conduct electricity a bit.  You would conduct electricity better.  So if youíre swimming in a lake and thereís a big current from the lightning strike flowing through the lake it sees you as a kind of Ďshortí as it can jump 2m to an easy path.  So it will flow through you.  Youíd get a big current flowing through you which would be very dangerous.  It can stop your heart which is why I was told in the States that you donít go swimming in a thunderstorm.

The fish could end up fried as well then!

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