What happens to atoms trapped in lightning? Why do electrons not split an atom but can change them inside the bolt? Can atoms travel on a bolt?


1 Answer 1


Lightning is a large-scale natural spark discharge that occurs within the atmosphere or between the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface. On discharge, a highly electrically conductive plasma channel is created within the air, and when current flows within this channel, it rapidly heats the air up to about 25 000°C. The lightning channel is an example of terrestrial plasma in action.

Plasma is the fourth state of matter, solid, liquid, gas, plasma.

A plasma can be created by heating a gas or subjecting it to a strong electromagnetic field applied with a laser or microwave generator. This decreases or increases the number of electrons, creating positive or negative charged particles called ions, and is accompanied by the dissociation of molecular bonds, if present.

With the above in mind:

What happens to atoms trapped in lightning?

A number of neutral atoms, i.e. a positive nucleus and a negative orbital cloud of electrons, remain neutral and are carried by the convection and turbulence induce by the energy of the discharge. A number have one or two electrons dissociated by the scattering energies of the bolt and so the gas has free charges, electrons and ions, following the field.

Why do electrons not split an atom but can change them inside the bolt?

Electrons are bound about the charge of the atom normally in stable orbitals. . The energy needed to split an electron off an atom is not very large, and the lightning bolt has it from the potential difference of cloud/ground. The plasma electrons may ionize other atoms in the turbulence.

Can atoms travel on a bolt?

Neutral atoms are carried by the eddies induced by the bolt. Ions ( atoms that have lost one or more electrons) travel by the attraction of the potential difference between cloud and ground in addition to the convection. The free electrons and ions carry the currents of the bolt.

  • $\begingroup$ I really love your answers are there any other questions in this that you would add? for example like cane lightning happen in 0 atmosphere? $\endgroup$
    – user100712
    Dec 9, 2015 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ @TimothyCaddell to get a bolt one needs two things , a gas and a potential difference. For lightning the potential difference is between cloud and earth, so material medium is necessary to induce a potential difference. 0 pressure , i.e complete vacuum is no go, but in a vacuum tube there will be some very low in atmosphere counts gas and in this the spark induced by high voltage will mimic a lightning discharge. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spark_gap#Spark_visibility $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Dec 10, 2015 at 4:24

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