The Dark Side of Nature #2 – What happens if you are STRUCK by Lightning?

In Nature, Physics by Mystifact

Lightning can be terrifying, especially if you are outdoors. It completely transforms the weather and it may very well strike you. They are uncomfortably loud and they do not look inviting in anyway at all. What would happen to you if one did strike you?

Thunder & lightning

Before we talk about the effects of lightning if it were to strike us; we must first understand what lightning is, and how it occurs.

What is lightning?

Lightning is the result of the build-up of static, in the clouds. Just like a battery is made up of a separation of charges where one side is positive and the other is negative, so are the clouds before a storm [1]. Scientists are not exactly certain how this occurs; but the best explanation is that warmer water rises to the top of the cloud, and colder water/ ice sinks to the bottom; this sinking of cold ice strips electrons away from the rising warmer water creating an eventual separation of charge. This means that at the top of the cloud you have a lot of positive charge and at the bottom, a lot of negative charge.

How is lightning struck?

This negative charge in the cloud actually repels electrons on Earth, creating another build-up of positive charge on ground level. This is why they say you should find cover if you start to feel your hairs stand up if you are outside! Your hairs stand up because the cloud has repelled the electrons in them making them positively charged – attracting them towards the cloud.

Eventually, when the charge difference is enough; the insulation properties of the air are overcome and the clouds shoot a stream of electrons – releasing energy. You may have heard that lightning goes from the ground up. Both do happen but happen so quick, you cannot tell [2].

Why can we hear thunder?

Thunder is the sound caused by lightning; they are both different things hence why the whole process is called: Thunder and Lightning. Lightning heats up the air around it. The temperature of this heated air reaches 20,000 degrees Celsius which is more than 3 times hotter than the surface of the Sun. This heated air expands rapidly as a result. This expansion of air is what we perceive as a sound wave [3]. Since sound is a lot slower than light; we usually see a flash, followed by a bang seconds after.

Thunder would be perceived as sound if the person hearing it was away from this expanding air. What if this person is standing in the middle of this expansion?

Shockwave

The person would experience what we call a shockwave. This could blow you off your feet, or be so loud, that it bursts your ear drums. This still doesn’t answer our main question; what if this lightning directly struck you?

The effects of lightning on a human

Many things can happen ranging from absolutely nothing… to death, and Science simply cannot explain why it affects people differently. Here is what can happen:

Death

Since lightning can have a voltage of up to a billion volts; if struck – one could die. The whole body works on electrical signals including the heart. Messing with them can very well cause cardiac arrest where effectively the heart stops.

3rd degree burns

As mentioned before due to the intense heat the lightning bolt delivers, it can leave you with nasty burns which could be long lasting and even permanent.

Lichtenberg figures

This is the physical scarring of the body from where the lightning hit. The shapes of the scars resemble the lightning itself and can look quite cool.

Absolutely nothing

People can get up and walk off as if something just knocked them over. In fact, a man got struck by lightning on his face – and suddenly knew how to play the piano eloquently, having never played one before. The conclusion here is it may give you superpowers.

Figure 1: Image showing a Lichtenberg figure scar from a lightning strike

How to protect yourself from being struck

Lightning is dangerous and there are ways to prevent being harmed. If you are outside and there is a storm get into a building as soon as you can. If you are in too much of an open space you must get as close to the ground as possible. If you are swimming, get out of the water immediately. If you have any electrical appliances switch them off.

On the off chance there is no storm, but you feel the hairs on your head or arms start to rise, do the above as this is a strong indicator that there will be lightning very soon!

Don’t be that afraid though; the chances of getting hit by lightning are about 1 in a million, but it is better to be safe than sorry! Here is a video of people almost getting struck… it will make the hairs on your head, stand.

If you have any questions, leave them below and until next time, take care.

~ Mystifact


References:
[1] – https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents
[2] – http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/education/svrwx101/lightning/faq/
[3] – http://www.sciencemadesimple.co.uk/curriculum-blogs
[4] – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhjx6lGTDhw

Please note; no copyright infringement is intended. All images used have been labelled for re-use on Google Images. If any artist or designer has any issues with any of the content used in this article, please don’t hesitate to contact me to correct the issue.

Previous ‘The Dark Side of Nature’ posts:
The Dark Side of Nature #1 – How are Scary Sinkholes formed?

Previous articles:
How does Virtual Reality work?
Why Can We See Through Glass?
How Do We Hear Sound?

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