Rocket-Triggered Lightning Puts on a Show Like No Other

Lightning never fails to put on a sublime show, even when it’s made on the scale of the teeny tiny inside of a lab. But watching rocket-triggered lightning is truly a dazzling sight to witness. It will not only make you rethink the electrostatic phenomenon, but also question why we’re not triggering lightning with rockets all the time just for the fun of it.

The above video of rocket-triggered lightning, originally posted to Twitter by user Buitengebieden, has recently gone viral. Although this particular clip has only recently blown up the net, the video from which it’s pulled was actually posted to YouTube back in 2013.

The below video, posted by the American Geophysical Union, showcases rocket-triggered lightning experiments performed by researchers at the University of Florida. In the video, the researchers show multiple instances where they fire off rockets into an approaching electrical storm. The rockets reel out spools of copper wire behind them, which are subsequently hit with lightning, and exploded by electrical current. The vaporized copper wires are then hit with even more lightning strikes.

Although this is the kind of experiment you’d expect Professor Farnsworth to undertake, AGU says the researchers involved were following in an established scientific pursuit. In fact, in an associated press release, AGU says the researchers’ intent lines up with that of Ben Franklin, in that they aimed “to better understand nature’s flashes of electricity.”

In terms of the science, the video’s description notes that the copper wire that’s unwound as the rocket ascends creates “an elevated ground that can attract descending leaders.” This means that the wire launched into the sky by the rocket provides a low-resistance pathway for an electrostatic discharge—the sudden flow of electricity between two electrically charged objects. The wire is vaporized, resulting in a channel of conductive plasma that takes its place.

a flash of lightning strikes on a grey cloudy sky


An entire dissertation was written on these experiments by William Gamerota, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Florida. Gamerota et al. even published a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres entirely on one abnormal lightning strike they recorded. Because, apparently, somebody needs to make sure Benjamin Franklin’s research is carried on in the entertaining fashion it should be.

What do you think about these videos of rocket-triggered lightning? Do you want to see this kind of experiment up close and personal, or are you frightened enough by natural lightning strikes already? Light up the comments section, people!

Feature image: AGU

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