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What happens when lightning hits?

You have to be quite unlucky to be killed by lightning – only about 10% of the people hit each year die – but being struck by lightning is a far from pleasant experience as Roy Sullivan can attest. A park ranger, he was struck seven times between 1942 and 1977 and suffered a range of disabling injuries. Lightning strikes can blow your clothes and shoes off as the moisture on your skin rapidly boils and turns to steam. Any objects touching your skin will cause serious burns and you also risk hearing loss, seizures, headaches and blindness.

So if you find yourself outside during a thunderstorm, what should you do? The best idea is to head straight for your car. This might sound odd since cars are made of metal and are therefore very good conductors, but they are also Faraday cages. Faraday cages work on the principle that electric fields can’t exist within a conductor and so any charge remains on the surface. In the case of a car, or for that matter an aeroplane, lightning strikes will be conducted around the outside, leaving all the occupants safe from harm. This is just as well since on average aeroplanes are struck by lightning once a year.

Lightning isn’t just a devastating force, it can also create beauty. Lightning that strikes sandy beaches can make the grains of sand fuse together like glass, producing tunnel shaped shards of a material called Fulgurite. These shards are extremely rare and can come in different colours depending on the type of sand.

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