Lightning ‘strikes the same place twice quite often’, say scientists

Rob Waugh
Contributor
Lightning does strike twice, it turns out (Getty)

People say that lightning never strikes the same place twice – but the idea is completely wrong, it turns out.

In fact, lightning frequently strikes exactly the same place twice, due to lightning travelling along ‘channels’ that are reused, scientists have said.

The finding is based on data from a Dutch radio telescope called LOFAR (Low Frequency Array) that has analysed the weather phenomenon in more detail than ever before.

LOFAR uses thousands of antennas spread across northern Europe which analyse lightning at new, unprecedented levels of detail.

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They found that lightning strikes the same place twice due to ‘needles’ up to 100 metres in length, which extend out from positively charged lightning channels.

A lightning flash is a giant electrical discharge.

But the negative charges inside a thundercloud are not discharged all in a single flash.

They are stored inside the needles through which a negative charge may cause a repeated discharge to the ground.

Professor Olaf Scholten, a physicist at Groningen University in The Netherlands, said, ‘This finding is in sharp contrast to the present picture, in which the charge flows along plasma channels directly from one part of the cloud to another, or to the ground.

The reason why the needles have never been seen before lies in the ‘supreme capabilities’ of LOFAR.

First author Dr Brian Hare said, ‘These needles can have a length of 100 metres and a diameter of less than five metres – and are too small and too short-lived for other lightning detection systems.’

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