Did you know you might have been close to being struck by lightning, yet not have felt a thing? If you think that’s impossible, this article will eliminate any doubts you may have. To prove this point, the understanding of how lightning, conductors, and insulators work is important.
To understand how this is possible, you first have to understand lightning. Lightning originates in a thundercloud and is the result of an electrical discharge between the clouds and the grounds of this very Earth. Lightning is produced when ice particles in the clouds collide with each other. The result of the ice particles colliding is the buildup of electrical charges. When the cloud is filled with electrical charges, air currents and moving ice and water particles in the cloud cause positive and negative charges to separate. Positive charges gather at the top of the cloud and negative charges gather near the bottom of the cloud. When there is a substantial negative charge at the bottom of the cloud, a shadow where a positive charge is induced forms on the ground below the cloud, creating a difference in potential. Because opposites attract, when the cloud’s charge becomes sufficient enough, a small path of the negative charge starts making its way towards the ground. At the same time, a path of positive charges moves up from the ground to meet with the negative charges at a certain point. When these paths meet, a bigger pathway is created to let electrons travel towards the ground, which then equals out the difference in potential. Thus, a bolt of lightning leashes towards the Earth at approximately 140,000 miles per hour. The occurrence of a lightning bolt is very short in duration but the electric discharge can contain up to one billion bolts. So how can a person be hit by a lightning bolt and not feel it? It is because the human body is not an effective conductor for lightning.
Conductors and Insulators:
Conductors and insulators are key aspects in understanding why the human body is not an effective conductor for lightning. Conductors are materials that allow for the flow of electrons to travel easily throughout the object. This means that electricity can travel through that particular object. The reason for this is that such objects contain loosely bound exterior atoms that can move freely, allowing the flow of electric current. There exist many examples of good conductors, metals particularly. Many metals, such as iron, aluminum, and copper, are used as electric conductors. This is the reason as to why most wires are made of various metals, preferably copper. Water with “impurities” such as salt and electrolytes can also be considered conductors though not as effective as metals. Insulators, on the other hand, are materials that have high resistance to electric currents. Many nonmetallic objects, such as rubber, wood or glass, are good insulators because the atoms of those items are closely bound, meaning that electric currents cannot move as easily.
So Why Don’t You Feel It?
The difference in potential between the ground and the cloud is very great and a current will be generated between the two. Also, the human body is just naturally a terrible conductor. So, theoretically, when the lightning strikes, the lightning will move around you to hit the ground for two reasons. You are a better insulator than the ground and the difference in potential between you and the cloud is lower than that between the cloud and the ground. So why is it that you don’t feel a lightning bolt hitting you? That is because the current flows around you as opposed to through you.