Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In connection with a related question on Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange page: does this number 1.21 GW make any sense? What is 1.21 GWatts? With what can you compare it? Can the lightning really produce this amount of power?

Are there any idea of why this number was used in a physical sense?

share|cite|improve this question
Thanks for edit, but isn't important say this 1.21 GW is about the film Back to the Future? – Rodrigo May 1 '12 at 21:55
Note that Watts is power, not energy and that short enough time scales can mean that high power does not imply a lot of energy (see for example sub-nanosecond pulsed lasers). – dmckee May 1 '12 at 22:03
There is no reason, it just sounded nice. It's probably taken by dividing the energy released in a lightning stroke and dividing by the time of the flash, so it is probably a roughly accurate amount of power in the lightning. – Ron Maimon May 1 '12 at 22:06
@Rodrigo: no, not for asking about it in a physics context. In any case, most people will probably either recognize the source of the number or click through to the question on SFF. – David Z May 2 '12 at 0:09
this site says that "jiggawatts" is the mispronunciation for gigawatt...funny... – user8673 May 2 '12 at 9:09

There is no deep reason, it just sounded nice (the one-two-one number-palindrome plus the techie sounding mispronounciation "jigga-watts"). It's a number taken by dividing the energy released in a lightning stroke (a few million joules according to Wikipedia) and dividing by the time of the flash (in the millisecond range), so that the total power is in the billions of Watts. It is not the absurdly precise value of 1.21 GW given in the movie, however.

share|cite|improve this answer

protected by Qmechanic Dec 30 '12 at 10:31

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.