Dot Physics

What kind of electricity is lightning?

Someone complained about a teacher using this question and the answer was disputed. After some time, the teacher claimed that the answer was that lightning is static electricity because she looked it up on the internet. So, I decided to look also, here is what I found searching for “what kind of electricity is lightning?” in google:

Electricity Facts – Dialogue for Kids (Idaho Public Television)

A couple of complaints about this site:

  • First, I am not fond of the term “Science Facts”. What is a science fact? Something that is proven true? This really is not how science works.
  • Second, I am not fond of the term “electricity” either – what exactly is this?
  • The good: the site talks about the atom and talks about how Ben Franklin didn’t INVENT electricity.
  • The site claims there are two kinds of electricity – static and current. I guess this ok since the definition of electricity is not too clear (to me).

Here is a table from that site:

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Here they define current electricity as a steady flow of electrons. If they use this definition, then maybe lightning is static, but then what would household current be (which is AC and therefore not steady). I would define static electricity as non-moving electrons (static – doesn’t that make sense). I would define current as moving electrons. In the case of lightning, it is definitely moving electrons.

Here are a couple of sites that seem to have it correct:

Another google search for “electricity lightning” gives the following:
Weather Eye – http://weathereye.kgan.com/cadet/lightning/electricity.html – “Lightning is like static electricity except on a much bigger scale”. Maybe I am just being picky (probably), but here it seems they are calling “getting shocked from rubbing your feet on the floor” static electricity. If this were the definition of static electricity, then they would be correct in calling lightning static electricity on a bigger scale.

In the end, if someone asked me “what kind of lightning is electricity?”, I think would focus on what is lightning and just pretend like they didn’t say “electricity”.

Comments

  1. #1 rob
    April 29, 2009

    considering you can measure the current of lightning, i’d say it ain’t static.

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