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Sprites, Jets, and Glowing Balls: The Science of Lightning

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Ever wonder how lightning works? Scientists are still figuring it out, but what we do know is fascinating. Learn about positive and negative lightning, red sprites, blue jets, and ball lightning in this episode of SciShow! Hosted by: Michael Aranda ---------- Support SciShow by becoming a patron on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/scishow ---------- Dooblydoo thanks go to the following Patreon supporters -- we couldn't make SciShow without them! Shout out to Justin Ove, Andreas Heydeck, Justin Lentz, Will and Sonja Marple, Benny, Chris Peters, Tim Curwick, Philippe von Bergen, Patrick, Fatima Iqbal, Lucy McGlasson, Mark Terrio-Cameron, Accalia Elementia, Kathy & Tim Philip, charles george, Kevin Bealer, Thomas J., and Patrick D. Ashmore. ---------- Like SciShow? Want to help support us, and also get things to put on your walls, cover your torso and hold your liquids? Check out our awesome products over at DFTBA Records: http://dftba.com/scishow ---------- Looking for SciShow elsewhere on the internet? Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/scishow Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/scishow Tumblr: http://scishow.tumblr.com Instagram: http://instagram.com/thescishow ---------- Sources: Basics about lightning (types and positive/negative) http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/electric/elefie.html http://www.colorado.edu/physics/phys1120/phys1120_fa09/LectureNotes/ChargesElectricFields.pdf http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/education/svrwx101/lightning/types/ https://www.ec.gc.ca/foudre-lightning/default.asp?lang=En&n=9353715C-1 http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/electric/lightning.html http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/electric/ligseq.html https://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/thunder.html http://www.srh.noaa.gov/srh/jetstream/lightning/positive.html http://news.discovery.com/earth/is-lightning-hotter-than-the-sun.htm http://www.srh.noaa.gov/jetstream/lightning/lightning_max.html https://www.unz.org/Pub/SaturdayRev-1972may13-00036 http://www.srh.noaa.gov/srh/jetstream/lightning/thunder.html http://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/lightning2.htm Red Sprites and Blue Jets http://www.ee.psu.edu/directory/facultyinfo/pasko/Publications/PaskoPSST07.pdf http://www.popsci.com/what-red-sprite http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/scientists-capture-rare-photographs-of-red-lightning-544670/?no-ist https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080328102738.htm http://elf.gi.alaska.edu/ Ball lightning https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn9293-physicists-create-great-balls-of-fire/ http://www.ipp.mpg.de/ippcms/eng/presse/archiv/05_06_pi http://phys.org/news/2012-10-mystery-ball-lightning.html http://physics.aps.org/articles/v7/5 http://phys.org/news/2014-01-instance-ball-lightning-captured-video.html http://news.discovery.com/earth/weather-extreme-events/ball-lightning-121012.htm Image sources: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=94592&picture=desert-lightning https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FoggDam-NT.jpg https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Lightning#/media/File:Lightning_slow_motion.gif https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Sun_by_the_Atmospheric_Imaging_Assembly_of_NASA%27s_Solar_Dynamics_Observatory_-_20100819.jpg?fastcci_from=17827&c1=17827&d1=15&s=200&a=fqv https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anvil-to-ground_lightning.jpg https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ISS-44_Red_Sprites,_northwest_Mexico.jpg https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BigRed-Sprite.jpg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dY5F_gEexAY&feature=youtu.be https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ball_lightning_spectrum.svg
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Text Comments (656)
cychoi (25 days ago)
nice video lighting physics is multiphysics problem very hard
Susan Pelham (2 months ago)
I have witnessed a ball of light floating in my room and I dont want to say it is a spirit. So I came up with other ideas as to what it is,hence I'm at this video trying to see what ball lightning would look like if some one captured it but sad to say no footage. I dont think that the ball of light was really lightning in my house so back to the idea of it being a spirit. I wish somebody can help me with what I have seen.
Emily Coughlin (2 months ago)
When my mom was little and lived in South Carolina there was this pretty sizable kind of ball of electricity that was recurrent and would usually pop up during storms, it sometimes would move around the house but would usually stay in the kitchen, sort of jumping off of appliances and other metal stuff, it would last for quite a while too, sometimes even hours, does anybody know what the heck that was?
Daniel Lowman (3 months ago)
What incites a streamer to meet up with a stepped leader? Is it just coincidence that they meet?
Malakai Mao (4 months ago)
I hit so close it scared the shot out of me
Malakai Mao (4 months ago)
While I was watching this where I was there was a lightning storm
notKARTHIK. (4 months ago)
How does positive charge move?
Jehziel Miralles (4 months ago)
This guy sounds like he could be philip defrancos son
Kadie Galewaler (4 months ago)
What about rainbows??
Wesley Morgan (5 months ago)
Doesn't all lightning ionize the air? This video makes it seem like only the red sprites ionize it.
Gabriela Silva (6 months ago)
This guy talks really fast
MicrowaveGamer (6 months ago)
What about St. Elmo's Fire???
BestPersonEver (6 months ago)
seductive
WypmanGames (6 months ago)
U can get blind by looking at the lightning flashes to much Especially the bright flashes are blinding ( most time its up to 15 seconds temporary blindness ) I got blinded for 8 seconds myself
badr wfm25 (7 months ago)
just theories and thoughts.
Backwards. Einstien
F M (8 months ago)
Can you guys do another video about red sprites? I've read and seen evidence that they're caused by electrons instead of photons
JoesWife Smith (8 months ago)
Thanks SciShow! Great job!
The HoSS (8 months ago)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnIcP4v_T8Y&t=125s
Pyro Sapien (8 months ago)
So its like when you apply to much voltage to a capacitor and it explodes
phoenix21studios (9 months ago)
so the lightning is pure electrons? or .... air molecules getting the electrons transferred?
Erin Mizumoto (1 year ago)
the earth is flat
Donavan Caudle (1 year ago)
Let’s Go Lightning!
Jonny Lopez (1 year ago)
All I heard was a bunch of theories and no actual facts
Shubham Gurav (1 year ago)
1:35 direction of current + to - , not from both sides
TheUnknown Myth (1 year ago)
at 0:45 wouldnt the heavy positive ions sink to the bottom of the cloud making it more positive charged while electrons that rise to the top area of tge cloud will make the top area of the cloud negative charged
Damien Thobe (1 year ago)
is lightning AC, DC, or it's own special thing?
phoenix21studios (9 months ago)
DC because its a linear transfer from one molecule to the other.
RandomCatDude (1 year ago)
... Both?
Nick12391 (1 year ago)
Why no ball lightning video?
Wisdom Afoolweakness (1 year ago)
lightening have nothing to do with the clouds I saw lightening with my own eyes strike the ground with no clouds
Mike Creed (1 year ago)
You guys could easily do these videos 10 minutes plus, there is so much more information to be provided on lightning let alone footage you could show, under 4 minutes is silly bearing in mind the intellect that goes into these, step up your game please.
Bruce Miller (1 year ago)
It starts as charge cluster like Ken Shoulders experimented with.
lukeskywalker (1 year ago)
Thanks for this. I'm still pretty sure I saw a ball of lighting in my room once. It came from the window and floated to the light switch right above my head. As it touched the switch it made a pop! This was during an intense thunderstorm, which woke me up as the lightning zapped. For years I thought I was just dreaming this... This is the first video that gives a credible explanation. Other explanations were just spiritual hogwash! I feel a little sane again about this.
devilsadvocate (1 year ago)
Yay! I'd been waiting to see something about sprites on here. :-D
Joslyn S (1 year ago)
❤️
Anthony Gonsalves (2 years ago)
This was my favorite subject in junior high, 15 years ago
Drake5153 (2 years ago)
you missed one thats still being mulled over, lightning caused by earthquakes. sweet channel btw, you can find more info here than you can searching google lol or at least find it quicker
R603 Burakkusuta (2 years ago)
I have seen red, green, blue, yellow, white, and purple lightning all in Florida.
That ball lighting come around my neighborhood I kill it! Damn nature you scary!
World Theory (2 years ago)
An early capacitor was made using glass, right? Maybe the soil/sand particles in the air are acting like a capacitor, to slow build-up and/or slow-down, the electrical charge. Has anyone tried bringing a tesla coil to the desert, powering it up, and aiming an industrial fan at the ground near-by, to kick up some dust? Or just throw some dirt at a tesla coil… Field trips are more fun though.
Lone Wolf (2 years ago)
Jupiter has Lightning that is even stronger and hotter than anything you could ever see on our planet. That lightning could only be possible on our planet in a Hollywood made Film.
HAPPYplace (2 years ago)
lightning has always fascinated me 😄
geonerd (2 years ago)
Not bad, but - Like most of your efforts - this really should have been 10 minutes long. That would be enough time to start to explain the 'WHYs,' rather than just spouting semi-random factoids on such a complex subject.
akash babu (2 years ago)
thats bullshit lightning happens because thor strikes his hammer.......duhhh
RSE 167 (2 years ago)
Nuclear fusion cause lightening
Brian Perkins (2 years ago)
Meh. Ball Lightning. 3 red, trample, no summoning sickness. I win.
BobEckert56 (2 years ago)
Other grapefruit sized balls of gas result from too many Brussels Sprouts!
Tigatron08 (2 years ago)
I bet he's a tiger in the sack.
Maxon Wolf (2 years ago)
there was ball lightning at WDW epcot yesterday (6/30/16) and it appeared about twice, about 10-20 seconds from each other
Al Al (2 years ago)
Ball fucking lightning
Fluffypear (2 years ago)
Does volcanic lighting work in the same way? Do we even know how volcanic lightning works? Can there be a video for this alone?
Ryeera (2 years ago)
Are you even serious? I always wanted to see a ball lightning and you even tell us that there is a video of it AND YOU DON'T SHOW IT? I AM DONE! DISLIKE! UNSUBSCRIBE! Just kidding xD
ArtisanReloadzzz (2 years ago)
Is it strange that I can shoot lightning out of my hands?
RandomCatDude (1 year ago)
Video proof pls.
TheRadarBlip (2 years ago)
I always wanted to know can a lightning strike an airplane, like a big passenger plane, and if it will are there any countermeasures? Thanks!
Vivaene (2 years ago)
You know what a horse wants from its presidents? A stable economy.
EnragedSephiroth (2 years ago)
wait... We don't even get a still image of ball lightning?
Tanasij Penko (2 years ago)
"beautiful lightning" yea i thought so too..for a long time..until it hit my house and fried everything i had..made holes in the walls where the wiring was...not to mention the bang....loudest bang you could ever hear
Dr. DoK (2 years ago)
About a week ago, when my family and I were coming home from a restaurant, a lightning bolt hit one of my neighbor's yards. Thing is, it stayed there for about 2-3 seconds before disappearing, and then the about a second or two later, the thunder came. what exactly WAS that?
Sprites, Jets and Glowing Balls... the name of a new night club perhaps? 😉
Broken Wave (2 years ago)
A lot of physics behind it? Everything has 100% physics behind it, not a lot or a little.
Raymond K Petry (2 years ago)
Ball Lightning was researched by Russian scientists decades ago, who concluded that it formed by lightning strikes on trees—the vaporized carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, formed nanoparticle-batteries which while individually weak a fraction of a volt each would span their short particle size and arc over... and in total amounted to quadrillions of volts...
Frank Malenfant (2 years ago)
How can an electric charge move from positive to negative since electrons are negatively charged? Shouldn't electrons from the negatively charged cloud flow down to the positively charged ground since a positive charge is a lack of electrons? How can a lack of electrons move?
basti329 (2 years ago)
I was in hospital last year and i was sitting at the window at night , watching the lightningstorm. I could see the whole city from above and it was really beautiful and all of a sudden lots of lightning strikes at the same time but all of them where orange. The whole skyline in a bright orange light ... one of the most beautiful things ive ever seen :) It also made my time in hospital a lot more enjoyable :DD
Ken O (2 years ago)
What's the statistics of lightening safety measures and are they worth it? From installing lightening rods (thank you Ben Franklin) to keeping away from plumbing and skipping a shower because there's a lighting storm outside, to avoiding standing under trees in a downpour even though you'd get drenched, etc.
dimebag5884 (2 years ago)
:D I did one of my final year uni projects on ball lightning. The other popular theory you didn't mention, first coined by Kapitza involves the creation of meta stable balls of plasma contained between nodes in the electric field. The main reason it's so poorly understood currently is because of how rare it is. This leads to most reports being non scientific eye witness accounts. Even with advanced statistical handling of observer errors no one theory is able to explain all forms of ball lightning: Some has been said to move through walls and glass (not consistent with and theory that relies upon particles) Some are said to have created explosions or evaporated large amounts of water which require more energy than anyone can work out how to self contain in plasma or to explain with the photon model. Basically either there are multiple different phenomenon that we label as ball lightning or we have to discount some accounts as people being mistaken.
Jonathan Ramos (2 years ago)
You couldn't have showed us the ball lighting ??
.Z Sexton (2 years ago)
where do we find the video of ball lightning?
Phil Bear (2 years ago)
Colored lightning is racist.
lmriana (2 years ago)
I thought this video would contain the ball lightning video by the Chinese scientists. Sadly it didn't.
Giver Of Zero Phux (2 years ago)
that ball lightening sounds scary. The last thing I want is to get struck in the balls with 1.21 gigawatts of electricity.
Narendra Singh (2 years ago)
during thunderstorms i sleep better than i do on a regular day
Miguel Mota (2 years ago)
If a lightning bolt hits the ground, how far a person must be to be safe?
Greenlightning (2 years ago)
I AM THE LIGHTNING!
Just Josh (2 years ago)
That was the shortest 3min 30 sec video I've ever seen. There is so much about lightning that is incredibly cool!
The Ceej (2 years ago)
What about ground to cloud lightning that strikes upward from the ground to the cloud? What causes that?
Andrew Bulman (2 years ago)
I haven't seen fork lightning in years. I only ever see the white flash.
Frank22lol (2 years ago)
does the lighting pas through the air equally or it prefers certain molecules in it's path?
Charles D (2 years ago)
2:56 Roll the damn clip!
Jinzo Okami (2 years ago)
red sprite? blue jet? i hope captain jack's crew doesn't attack again, Jimenez just went AWOL.
chimneyface (2 years ago)
0:36 YODA?
Pavr (2 years ago)
or aliens
SmurfsAndRaspberries (2 years ago)
Convincingly this video where uploaded when a heavy lightning storm occurred where I live... As well as the southern part of my country.
Nilguiri (2 years ago)
Wow, I didn't know that "positive lightning" even existed, much less that it caused sprites.
Erfan Huq (2 years ago)
How can there be positive streams? How do protons move?
phantasm1234 (2 years ago)
Can you do one on cerebral aneurysms? I had one rupture at 19 and would love to learn more.
J.R. Zippie (2 years ago)
sorry I asked...
Stig Cruise (2 years ago)
... really :-( you showed us all of the examples of lightning except ball
Abhyuday Skywalker (2 years ago)
you guys forgot force lightning
Steve W (2 years ago)
I always thought that ball lightning may be some form of st elmo's fire.
Rebekah Lanee (2 years ago)
Lightning bow in real life confirmed
Jose Campos (2 years ago)
Lightning gets me all hot and bothered. .....
Scott Mantooth (2 years ago)
lightning is my muse...
R MH (2 years ago)
Aw, how could you not show ball lighting? Not even an animation?
Eric Bourque (2 years ago)
What if ball lighting is a mini fusion ball? Look at the spectrum!
Anison Abba (2 years ago)
Theories everywhere but no hard facts. Scientists are idiots who knew
Bruce Liu (2 years ago)
I wonder if solar max has anything to do with the appearance of sprites.
cellogirl11RW (2 years ago)
I actually had some ball lightning float through one of the windows in my living room about 2 years ago. It was a beautiful little blue, sparkling ball about the size of a tennis ball, which aimlessly floated around the room for about 30 seconds before disappearing into thin air. I was mesmerized by it, but, if I had known what I know now about ball lightning then, I probably would've been terrified of it. Ball lightning has been known to start fires, short out electrical systems, and strike people, as well as animals.
cellogirl11RW (2 years ago)
I actually had some ball lightning float through one of the windows in my living room about 2 years ago. It was a beautiful little blue, sparkling ball about the size of a tennis ball, which aimlessly floated around the room for about 30 seconds before disappearing into thin air. I was mesmerized by it, but, if I had known what I know now about ball lightning then, I probably would've been terrified of it. Ball lightning has been known to start fires, short out electrical systems, and strike people, as well as animals.
Dakota Sims (2 years ago)
video idea if it hasnt been done. "what happens when we forget something"
BlankBrain (2 years ago)
When my mom was a girl, ball lightning came into the house on the phone line. It stayed in the room for several seconds. That was at a time when all phone lines were above ground. I read an article in Scientific American a long time ago that speculated that ball lightning is a sphere of layers of positive and negative charges (like an onion). I don't remember what they said might keep the charges separated (photon emission?).
TheTomBevis (2 years ago)
I have heard anecdotal stories that I think are reliable of lightning strikes on a fence line causing ball lighting to travel down the fence. I've seen some strange things, but not that.

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