While looking at this youtube video of lightning in 1000 fps I was somewhat surprised that such a frame rate is enough to capture the propagation of lightning.

I have no clue about photography or physics, but the naive questions I want to ask are:

  1. How "quickly" does lightning propagate, and what are the main contributing factors to the propagation speed (e.g density of clouds etc)?
  2. What exactly is propagating? It can't be light, since it's much too fast, so somehow the "sequence of discharges" that is lightning propagates. Why does it do this?
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidWhite That seems more like an answer than like a comment. $\endgroup$
    – rob
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 1:56
  • $\begingroup$ Related: physics.stackexchange.com/q/136694/2451 $\endgroup$
    – Qmechanic
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 7:51

1 Answer 1


There are two processes going on in a lightning strike. There are stepped leaders, searching for the path of least resistance, and there is the lightning strike when that path is found. See youtube.com/watch?v=XWuZqw3LopE. Each process has its own speed, and the stepped leader process may not proceed at a constant speed. Also see youtube.com/watch?v=RLWIBrweSU8.


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