Hail To The Chief: Prepare For A Shock!!

James Zahara Weather Blog

Last Saturday night, when I saw that first flash of lightning my eyes were glued to the window for the next half hour. Spring had sprung!  And what better place to be then indoors especially when severe thunderstorms are present.  Personally, any cloud that can create lighting is severe.  Lightning is unpredictable.  Did you know that we have nothing today that can tell us where a lightning bolt is going to strike? True!  Did you know that on rare occasions we’ve been struck with a smaller form of lightning?  Thats true, too!  Have you ever touched a metal door handle in a dry room? If so, then you know that you can get shocked! Well, guess what? Lightning works the same way. Professor ‘Z’ is here to show you an experiment where you can make that same spark the safe way. Here are the items you’ll need:

Aluminum pie pan
Small piece of wool fabric
Styrofoam plate
Pencil with a new eraser
Flat thumbtack


Push the thumbtack through the center of the aluminum pie pan from the bottom. Push the eraser end of the pencil into the thumbtack. Put the styrofoam plate upside-down on a table. Rub the underneath of the plate quickly with the wool fabric for a solid minute. Immediately, pick up the aluminum pie pan using the pencil as a handle and place it on top of the upside-down styrofoam plate that you were just rubbing with the wool. Touch the edge of the aluminum pie pan with your finger.


Did you feel a shock? If you don’t feel anything, try rubbing the styrofoam plate again. Like most experiments, getting it the first time is a bonus. Once you feel the shock, try the experiment by turning the lights off. You should be able to see the spark this time!!

Lightning is simply that, a giant spark. Why does lightning happen? It happens when the negative charges, which are called electrons, in the bottom of a cloud or in this experiment your finger, are attracted to the positive charges, which are called protons. This would be the ground or any high profile object like a tree or a building.


In this experiment it would be the aluminum pie pan. The spark from this experiment would be a mini lightning bolt.

Here’s a bonus experiment! When there’s lightning, there’s thunder. Thunder is created when the air surrounding the lightning bolt is heated but more importantly expands at the rapid rate. So fast, it breaks the sound barrier. Its the same way when blowing a paper lunch bag. Ah yes, we’ve all done this before. After you blow it up, pop it! The popping noise acts the same way as thunder.

Hmmm. Now what am I going to use to carry my lunch in?


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