Slow-Mo Cameras Capture Lightning Like Never Before

Few natural phenomenon are as powerful and awe-inspiring as lightning. Molten flashes of plasma which sear the eyes and deafen the ears, lightning is as mysterious as it is beautiful. Researchers at the Florida Institute of Technology are using modern photography to try and discover more about this still largely-unknown entity.

The researchers have used slow-motion photography to record the instance of a lightning strike. Looking at a strike at 7,000 frames per second, they have discovered phenomenon invisible to the naked eye.

The footage taken as shown a series of negatively charged particles known as “stepped leaders” descending from the underside of a thunderstorm and travelling towards the ground. The researchers believe that these particles induce upward moving streams of positively charged particles to ascend from the ground as they go. Once negative and positive particles meet, the “return stroke” occurs.

The “return stroke” is the bright (and loud) flash we all know and love. This “return stroke” is the only part of lightning we can see with our own two eyes. And it’s not because the “stepped leaders” are invisible either, as the image shows. The process of a lightning strike is simply too fast for us to see in its entirety. The whole thing is over in a flash! (heh)

While not a ground-breaking discovery on its own, being able to see this process in action is still a step forward when it comes to researching lightning. The researchers hope that using slow-mo photography will be able to teach them more about several of the more obscure types of lightning, many of which are still steeped in mystery.