Lightning is a natural electrical discharge that occurs when there is an imbalance of electrical charge within a thunderstorm cloud or between a cloud and the ground.
The process begins with the separation of positive and negative charges within a thundercloud due to turbulent updrafts and downdrafts.
As the charge separation intensifies, it creates an electric field, and when this field becomes strong enough, it initiates a stepped leader—a conductive path from the cloud towards the ground.
Simultaneously, upward streamers form on the ground or tall structures, reaching toward the descending stepped leader.
When the stepped leader and the upward streamer connect, a completed circuit is formed, allowing a rapid flow of electrical current known as the return stroke.
The return stroke is the visible lightning flash that we observe and is characterized by its rapid and bright illumination.
Thunder, a sonic shockwave created by the rapid expansion of heated air along the lightning channel, follows the lightning flash.
Lightning balances Earth's electrical charge and nitrogen fixation in the atmosphere by occurring intra-cloud, inter-cloud, or cloud-to-ground.
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