Watch: New High-Speed Camera Captures Lightning Storm in Extreme Slow Motion

Lightning
Lightning flashes near Christ the Redeemer statue (lower centre, Illuminated) and the Cantagalo favela community (lower right), Rio de Janeiro, February 23. Mario Tama/Getty

Scientists at the Florida Institute of Technology have captured a beautiful lightning storm using a new high-speed camera.

The lightning in this video was recorded at 7,000 frames per second, with the playback speed adjusted to 700 frames per second. This is 290 times more frames per second than your average film. Researcher Ningyu Liu from the Geospace Physics Lab captured the footage on May 20 near the university's Melbourne campus.

It shows a series of vein-like electrical streaks descending from the clouds just prior to a full-on lightning flash. The instrument that captured this lightning flash has only recently been deployed, and it will eventually be used to study the dynamics and energetics of what are termed starters, jets, and gigantic jets—upward electrical discharges produced by thunderstorms in the upper atmosphere.

Lightning is caused by an electrical discharge of electrons moving extremely fast from one place to another. These electrons move so quickly that they superheat the air around them causing it to glow.

Some facts about lightning storms:

  • A bolt of lightning lasts on average for about 1/10,000th of a second but could light a 100-watt light bulb for three months
  • Lightning travels through the air at around 270,000 mph—that's around 75 miles every second
  • Lightning is hotter than the surface of the sun, reaching temperatures of around 30,000 Celsius
  • Thunderstorms can trigger asthma
  • The island of Java is the most thundery place on Earth, with 220 days of thunderstorms every year.