What would happen if 2 lightning bolts should hit each other?

13 February 2011

Question

What would happen if 2 lightning bolts should hit each other?

Answer

Dave - A lightning bolt is essentially a very, very large spark. This is when you have a very, very large charge building up on something. It is so large that it can rip the electrons off air molecules, and then that suddenly means that air goes from being an insulator to a conductive plasma. A plasma has free electrons moving around and therefore it conducts electricity very well. That means the path which this has become very, very conducting, so it kind of attracts all of the other little lightning bolts and all the other charge from around it. All that charge runs down one single lightning bolt all the way down to the ground. I think that lightning bolts hit each other in the sky all the time and essentially, they just pick the path of least resistance and all the current from both of them would go down the path of least resistance to the ground.

Chris - And they carry a huge current, 20,000 amps or so I read, and it's enough to heat the air in the area of the lightning bolt to about 30,000 Kelvin or six times the surface temperature of the Sun, which is why you get this huge expansion in the shockwave.

Dave - Which is the thunder, of course.

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