See Inside May 2005

A Bolt Out of The Blue

New research shows that lightning is a surprisingly complex and mystifying phenomenon


Lightning is a particularly unsettling product of bad weather. It causes more deaths and injuries in the U.S. than either hurricanes or tornadoes do, and it strikes without warning, sometimes with nothing but blue sky overhead. In central Florida, where I live, thunderstorms are a daily occurrence during the summer, and so, ironically, people in the Sunshine State often spend their afternoons indoors to avoid the risk of death from the sky.

Worldwide, lightning flashes about four million times a day, and bolts have even been observed on other planets. Yet despite its familiarity, we still do not know what causes lightning. It is a misconception that Benjamin Franklin solved the puzzle when he conducted his famous kite experiment in 1752.

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content

It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Holiday Sale

Scientific American Mind Digital

Get 6 bi-monthly digital issues
+ 1yr of archive access for just $9.99

Hurry this offer ends soon! >


Email this Article


Next Article