"Nuclear bombs" have some distinct associated phenomena. They produce loud bangs. They produce bright flashes of light. They produce bursts of gamma radiation.

These phenomena are diagnostic of electric arcs. Electric arcs (eg, lightning) also produce loud bangs. Electric arcs (lightning) also produce bright flashes of light. Electric arcs (lightning) also produce bursts of gamma radiation.

It would then follow that an electric arc of sufficient size could be used to simulate a "nuclear bomb". If so, could the geoelectric field of earth somehow be tapped to produce such an effect?

Note: Lightning is a continuous phenomenon on earth with hundreds of strikes per second, globally, so it would seem that there is a monstrously huge power source that could be harnessed as a weapon.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Note that lightning is not an arc, it's a spark. These are two different kinds of electric discharge. $\endgroup$
    – Ruslan
    Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 19:12

1 Answer 1


We can do a quick and simple energy comparison between lightning strikes and nuclear weapons.

An average lightning strike releases approximately $10^9$ joules of energy, which is one gigajoule. Exploding one ton of TNT releases about $4$ gigajoules of energy, so it is equivalent to about $4$ lightning strikes. The atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were each equivalent to between $15$ and $20$ kilotons of TNT - so between $60,000$ and $80,000$ lightning strikes each. The most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated was the Tsar Bomba, tested by the Soviet Union in 1961, which was equivalent to about $50$ megatons of TNT - so around $200$ million lightning strikes. Across the whole Earth there are about three million lightning strikes every day. So the Tsar Bomba weapon released the energy equivalent of about two months of naturally occurring lightning strikes.

In conclusion, you will need a very large number of lightning strikes to release the same amount of energy as one nuclear weapon.

Could the geoelectric field of earth somehow be tapped to produce such an effect ?

Lightning is not caused by a "geoelectric field" (whatever that might be). It is a side effect of the heating of the Earth's atmosphere by the sun.

  • $\begingroup$ Maybe i didn't make it clear but I'm talking about one monstrous electric arc, not tens or hundreds of thousands of individual lightning strikes. Now let's take your figures and compare them to the available energy in the geoelectric field. There are ~100 strikes/s. 100 gigajoules/s. That is 80000 strikes in 800 seconds. 800 seconds is approximately 13 minutes. So in 13 minutes the energy equivalent of 20ktons of TNT is dumped through the atmosphere as lightning. And your answer avoids the question "could the geoelectric field be so tapped?". Is my math okay? Did i divide correctly? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 11:17
  • $\begingroup$ @fertilizerspike Your arithmetic is correct, although you have overestimated the frequency of lightning strikes by a factor of about 2. However, lighting is a very diffuse source of energy - how exactly would you concentrate global lightning strikes into one place ? Also, global energy in lightning is much smaller than the energy available from wind, tides and solar power. $\endgroup$
    – gandalf61
    Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 11:24
  • $\begingroup$ @fertilizerspike I have added to my answer to respond to your question about the "geoelectric field", although I am not really sure what you mean by "geoelectric field". $\endgroup$
    – gandalf61
    Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 11:32
  • $\begingroup$ swpc.noaa.gov/products/geoelectric-field-1-minute $\endgroup$
    – mmesser314
    Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 12:09
  • $\begingroup$ @mmesser314 Thank you. Looks like a very small effect (measured in millivolts per kilometer) and has no connection with lightning. $\endgroup$
    – gandalf61
    Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 12:33

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