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Weather experiment: What is lightning?

Posted at 12:18 PM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-22 12:20:03-04

We’re continuing our weather experiments by talking about lightning. In this demonstration, you can use the same type of energy that creates bolts of lightning to turn on a light bulb.

MATERIALS NEEDED:

  • a low watt light bulb
  • a balloon

STEPS:

  1. You’ll want to make the room darker so you can see the light bulb brighten
  2. Blow up the balloon
  3. Rub it on your head
  4. Move the balloon closer to the end of the light bulb and watch it light up

EXPLANATION:
The friction between the balloon and your head created static electricity. This is very similar to the process inside of a storm cloud. Small particles such as dust, ice, and water droplets rubbed up against each other creating an electrical charge inside of a cloud. The light bulb lit up because negative charges from the balloon jumped across the air and connected with the positive charges inside of the light bulb. This happens with lighting during a storm too, however, it can happen inside of a single cloud, from one cloud to another, or from the cloud to the ground.

Below is a diagram from the National Weather Service that explains how the charges connect to create a lightning bolt. As you can see, it's very similar to the process we talked about in our at home experiment.

How lightning is created

Click here for more lightning facts from the National Weather Service.