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Weather Talk: A spark of lightning

Around the world, lightning happens about three million times a year, or about 30 times per second. Not all lightning strikes the ground. Lightning can also occur within a cloud or go between clouds. Most of us associate lightning with rain storm...

Around the world, lightning happens about three million times a year, or about 30 times per second. Not all lightning strikes the ground. Lightning can also occur within a cloud or go between clouds. Most of us associate lightning with rain storms because that is where it is most commonly seen. However, lightning can also happen in volcano eruptions. In arid climates, lightning often happens in storms producing little or no rain. In winter, lightning occasionally happens when it is snowing. We usually don’t think about weather on other planets, but lightning has been observed in the atmospheres of Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. In all of these cases, lightning is a big spark caused by charge separation from static electricity. The spark heats the air it passes through, causing the air to suddenly expand, which causes a shock wave we hear as thunder. 

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