# The Naked Scientists Forum

### Author Topic: Mass of lightning  (Read 13890 times)

#### nexus

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##### Mass of lightning
« on: 21/07/2006 04:15:15 »
I registered just because I wanted to ask this question.

What do you think is the average weight (or more appropriately mass) of lightning?

#### moonfire

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #1 on: 21/07/2006 04:35:57 »
Oh, keep asking questions...you have my attention with this one...as who will measure the weight of it?

"Lo" Loretta

#### nexus

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #2 on: 21/07/2006 04:45:59 »
Well the main ingredient of lightning is electrons, and electrons have mass, so how much more does it weigh than air?

Now, I've left many holes in this question to be filled, such as what constitutes an average lightning bolt.

#### moonfire

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #3 on: 21/07/2006 04:57:20 »
Interesting question, but how can you determine what is an average lightning bolt?  There are so many variables that you have to look at, after you measure how many for how long, duration, location, and etc...?

"Lo" Loretta

#### nexus

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #4 on: 21/07/2006 05:11:59 »
Well I could arbitrarily pick all the variables and be done with it, but I was rather hoping there was statistical data somewhere that could just pop up the answer.

I think determing the type of lightning should be the first question to be answered.

#### moonfire

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #5 on: 21/07/2006 05:18:12 »
Absolutely.  Then find out the location where most lightning strikes?  If that is possible?

"Lo" Loretta

#### another_someone

• Guest
##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #6 on: 21/07/2006 12:48:07 »
quote:
Originally posted by nexus

Well the main ingredient of lightning is electrons, and electrons have mass, so how much more does it weigh than air?

Now, I've left many holes in this question to be filled, such as what constitutes an average lightning bolt.

After much thought about all the paradoxes involved in this question, I would start by disagreeing with the above position.

The biggest problem is that when one talks about mass, one usually is referring to rest mass (otherwise one has to use relativistic mass), and since lightning is a dynamic process, what can be regarded as the rest mass of a dynamic process.

The underlying factor in lightning is not the movement of electrons, but the existence of electric charge.  Electric charge is mediated by photons, which are massless; and thus in may in my view be argued that lightning itself is massless, although it can drag electrons in its wake (which have mass).

If one was to look at the mass of the electrons that were dragged by a lightning strike, you would have to ask what is a lightning strike – it is after all, just an electrical discharge, no different from the electrical discharge in a spark plug, or a van de graff generator – are we to include spark plug discharges in our calculations?

George

#### nexus

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #7 on: 21/07/2006 13:08:46 »
another somone I don't understand. What generates the photons?

is there nothing else that can hold an electric charge and have mass?

#### moonfire

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #8 on: 21/07/2006 13:54:31 »
I was just thinking of in general with location where most lightning strikes as to find any studies on it to see if it has been measured already?  Sorry, I looked at your question differently.  I will stop typing and let an expert come in as I am just a novice and was fascinated with your question...please pardon me!

"Lo" Loretta

#### another_someone

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #9 on: 21/07/2006 16:00:21 »
quote:
Originally posted by nexus
another somone I don't understand. What generates the photons?

is there nothing else that can hold an electric charge and have mass?

My understanding (and I am not an expert on Quantum Field Theory – or anything much else ) is that all elementary fields (including electrical fields) is mediated by the exchange of virtual particles between the bodies that emit that field.  These particles are virtual, insofar as they are created and consumed without ever being seen by the outside world, so the outside world does not see any breach of any conservation law.

In the case of the electric field (which is held by electrons, positrons, and quarks), the virtual particle that mediates the field is a photon.  It is because the photon is the only massless particle that is involved in quantum fields that causes the electric charge to be the only elementary force that has infinite range (other quantum forces, that are mediated by heavier virtual particles, have very short ranges).

George

#### ukmicky

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #10 on: 21/07/2006 21:47:55 »
My very basic understanding is this

Rest mass electron = 9.10938188 × 10-31 kilograms And a spark is the flow of electrons from one place to another, so yes lightning must contain mass just not very much as a electron doesn’t weigh much unless accelerated to very high speeds.

You see a lighting strike because the electrons need a medium to flow through and as they travel through the atmosphere they heat it up creating a channel of ionized air molecules where  electrons are ripped from the individual atoms  releasing photons.

Michael
« Last Edit: 21/07/2006 21:56:50 by ukmicky »

#### another_someone

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #11 on: 21/07/2006 22:14:55 »
quote:
Originally posted by ukmicky

My very basic understanding is this

Rest mass electron = 9.10938188 × 10-31 kilograms And a spark is the flow of electrons from one place to another, so yes lightning must contain mass just not very much as a electron doesn’t weigh much unless accelerated to very high speeds.

You see a lighting strike because the electrons need a medium to flow through and as they travel through the atmosphere they heat it up creating a channel of ionized air molecules where  electrons are ripped from the individual atoms  releasing photons.

Electrons can flow through a vacuum – so that statement of itself is not strictly true.

As you say, lightning is the flow of electrons – but it is not the electrons themselves.  Trying to measure the mass of an electron as a statement of the mass of a flow of electrons is like measuring the mass of air as a measure of the mass of a sound wave.

I suppose if one is going to have any real definition of what the mass of lightning is, one has to look at how one defines mass at all.  Mass is essentially a measure of how much force is required to cause a certain amount of acceleration.  In that respect, I suppose one could ask how much force would be required to cause lightning to accelerate away from its otherwise intended path (although this clearly is not a measure of rest mass).  The problem is that lightning does not itself readily conform to Newton's first law of motion, and so it is rather difficult to effectively apply Newton's second and third laws of motion.

George
« Last Edit: 21/07/2006 22:15:26 by another_someone »

#### ukmicky

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #12 on: 21/07/2006 22:33:23 »
quote:
Originally posted by another_someone

quote:
Originally posted by ukmicky

My very basic understanding is this

Rest mass electron = 9.10938188 × 10-31 kilograms And a spark is the flow of electrons from one place to another, so yes lightning must contain mass just not very much as a electron doesn’t weigh much unless accelerated to very high speeds.

You see a lighting strike because the electrons need a medium to flow through and as they travel through the atmosphere they heat it up creating a channel of ionized air molecules where  electrons are ripped from the individual atoms  releasing photons.

Electrons can flow through a vacuum – so that statement of itself is not strictly true.

As you say, lightning is the flow of electrons – but it is not the electrons themselves.  Trying to measure the mass of an electron as a statement of the mass of a flow of electrons is like measuring the mass of air as a measure of the mass of a sound wave.

I suppose if one is going to have any real definition of what the mass of lightning is, one has to look at how one defines mass at all.  Mass is essentially a measure of how much force is required to cause a certain amount of acceleration.  In that respect, I suppose one could ask how much force would be required to cause lightning to accelerate away from its otherwise intended path (although this clearly is not a measure of rest mass).  The problem is that lightning does not itself readily conform to Newton's first law of motion, and so it is rather difficult to effectively apply Newton's second and third laws of motion.

George

Silly me ,its the heat
i meant to say something like  you see a lighting strike because the electrons are traveling through a meduim and as.............

Michael
« Last Edit: 21/07/2006 22:35:18 by ukmicky »

#### Soul Surfer

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #13 on: 29/07/2006 11:43:48 »
Mass and energy are related by the famous einstein equation e=mc^2.

A lightning bolt is a discharge of energy.

When you talk about the mass of a lightning bolt do you mean

A   The mass of all the materials involved in the passage of the discharge from The cloud to the ground  ( thats a bit like saying the mass of a motorway has something to do with the mass of the truck that's driving on it  so it is not really relevant)

B   The effective mass of the energy that has been released by the lightning bolt which has dischaged the cloud.  (that is probably very small and is not anything much to do with the process as no matter has been destroyed in the release of the electrical energy)

C  The change in force between the cloud and the ground as a result of the discharge  ( This is probably the most relavent because prior to the discharge there was a strong attractive force between the cloud and the ground as a result if the large electrical field that has beedn generated by the moving droplets in the cloud)

Learn, create, test and tell
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#### Soul Surfer

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #14 on: 29/07/2006 11:43:48 »
Mass and energy are related by the famous einstein equation e=mc^2.

A lightning bolt is a discharge of energy.

When you talk about the mass of a lightning bolt do you mean

A   The mass of all the materials involved in the passage of the discharge from The cloud to the ground  ( thats a bit like saying the mass of a motorway has something to do with the mass of the truck that's driving on it  so it is not really relevant)

B   The effective mass of the energy that has been released by the lightning bolt which has dischaged the cloud.  (that is probably very small and is not anything much to do with the process as no matter has been destroyed in the release of the electrical energy)

C  The change in force between the cloud and the ground as a result of the discharge  ( This is probably the most relavent because prior to the discharge there was a strong attractive force between the cloud and the ground as a result if the large electrical field that has beedn generated by the moving droplets in the cloud)

Learn, create, test and tell
evolution rules in all things
God says so!

#### Mjhavok

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #15 on: 03/08/2006 06:15:01 »
Lightning - Abrupt electric discharge from cloud to cloud or from cloud to earth accompanied by the emission of light

Electric discharge - The flow of electricity through a gas, resulting in the emission of radiation that is characteristic of the gas and of the intensity of the current.

Could it be the lightning has almost no mass and only the gas the discharge passes through has mass?

#### neilep

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #16 on: 06/08/2006 18:15:11 »
Nexus, once your lightning bolt fix has been satiated will you be continuing to grace us with your presence ?

It would be nice to have your continued participation

Men are the same as women, just inside out !

#### Karen W.

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #17 on: 06/08/2006 18:38:11 »
I don't know about the weight or mass Of Lightening, But My cousin Serina has been struck twice by lighening and survived both strikes. First time she was at a party out in the hills dancing up in the back of a pickup bed in the evening, It was starting to storm and they had loud music playing when boom the sky lit up right over her head and hit her about chest hieght only over more towards her right hand side of her chest shoulder area. Had a massive burn and knocked her unconscious. She was slammed backwords into the cab of the truck! Her friends were smart enough to have been paying attention in school and started cpr in the back of the truck, they rushed her to the hospital where they worked on her. She was there for 3 days and was released with burn instructions!! The second time was a year later outside in a field trying to catch her mothers frightened cow! Struck her this time closer to the stomach area. Knocked her backwards several feet before landing her up against a fence post! Her mother was the one this time do have to get her to the hospital. This one kept her there for over a week as she remaine unconscious longer. They did not think she would survive this one. She did and she is a raving beauty and is very gun shy of storms now. No window seats and no playing outside during storms in New mexico!

Karen

#### Mjhavok

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #18 on: 06/08/2006 18:46:40 »
What a story to tell your friends. I am a bit jealous. As long as I wasn't horribly disfigured or something I think I'd like to get struck by lightning and survive not once but twice.

Does she have any special powers now? lol.

Steven

#### nexus

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #19 on: 09/08/2006 22:54:13 »
Hello all, I'm back from vacation from Lake Superior Provincial Park and on my way home I was in one heck of a storm. I was in a few down bursts the winds were around 120 km/h. The winds weren't doing the twirly thing so I wasn't in a tornado, but it was just as scary and effective; a few trees and barns were demolished. After the rain let up so that I could see past the hood of my car (with a little illumination from my friend lightning) I proceeded on my way.

But, I digress!

Soul Searcher: I was thinking of the mass of the trucks without the motorway. The motorway being a means to an end.

#### Soul Surfer

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #20 on: 09/08/2006 23:41:54 »
In that case the answer is "mass" C.  it has little to do with the particles involved in the discharge which mostly stay reasonably close to where they were but the change in force between the cloud and the ground as a result of the discharge of the capacitance of the cloud.

The Wikipedia article on lightning gives the following information

An average bolt of negative lightning carries a current of 30-to-50 kiloamperes(kA), although some bolts can be up to 120kA, and transfers a charge of 5 coulombs and 500 megajoules (enough to light a 100 watt light bulb for 2 months). However, it has been observed from experiments that different locations in the US have different potentials (voltages) and currents, in an average lightning strike for that area. For example, Florida, with the largest number of recorded strikes in a given period, has a very sandy ground saturated with salt water, and is surrounded by water. California, on the other hand, has fewer lightning strikes (being dryer). Arizona, which has very dry, sandy soil and a very dry air, has cloud bases as high as 6,000-7,000 feet above ground level, and gets very long, thin, purplish discharges, which crackle; while Oklahoma, with cloud bases about 1,500-2,000 feet above ground level and fairly soft, clay-rich soil, has big, blue-white explosive lightning strikes, that are very hot (high current) and cause sudden, explosive noise when the discharge comes. Potentially, the difference in each case may consist of differences in voltage levels between clouds and ground. Research on this is still ongoing....

Learn, create, test and tell
evolution rules in all things
God says so!
« Last Edit: 09/08/2006 23:49:22 by Soul Surfer »

#### nexus

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #21 on: 10/08/2006 01:21:04 »
quote:
Originally posted by Soul Surfer

In that case the answer is "mass" C.  it has little to do with the particles involved in the discharge which mostly stay reasonably close to where they were but the change in force between the cloud and the ground as a result of the discharge of the capacitance of the cloud.

Now I'm befuddled. Please explain what you mean by "mass" C. I think we are going some where Soul Searcher, soon we may need to do some number crunching.

#### lightarrow

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #22 on: 11/08/2006 17:18:06 »
quote:
Originally posted by nexus

I registered just because I wanted to ask this question.

What do you think is the average weight (or more appropriately mass) of lightning?

Soul Surfer has given all the possible answers to this question, according to the way we want to define a lightining mass.

If I had to give the simplest answer, I would say it's the mass of the moving charges. I'm thinking about an electron beam, like the one inside a TV apparatus, and I could send a bump of electrons even to the Moon (it's not necessary to have a positive charged electrode there); it's not difficult to see this image of a moving body of limited dimensions with charge and mass, exactly as a sort of little "train".

The problem is that these charges are not always electrons. Sometimes lightings are made by positive ions discharge, and the mass of the ions, not considering the degree of ionization (the mass of one or some electrons compared to the one of the atom is at least 2000 times less, so we can omit in the calculation) depends on exact air composition in that place (of the discharge).

#### nexus

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##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #23 on: 12/08/2006 04:13:31 »
ok, i'm satisfied unless someway else can take the helm

#### The Naked Scientists Forum

##### Re: Mass of lightning
« Reply #23 on: 12/08/2006 04:13:31 »