How Lightning Strikes

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There’s a saying that “lightning strikes whatever’s tallest.” But this is only partly true. Tall objects do attract lightning bolts, but there’s a second condition for lightning to strike: electrical conductivity.

Meaning, a lightning bolt will only strike an object that can become electrically charged.

There’s another common misconception out there, though the Google search I did reveals that knowledge of the truth is comfortingly widespread. If you were to catch sight of a lightning bolt, would you say it strikes upward or downward?

That is, does lightning start at the ground or in the clouds?

I heard from multiple reliable sources that lightning strikes from the ground up, but the video you’ll see below would seem to contradict that. I wasn’t satisfied with the results of my search, so I did some more digging.

Continue reading

The Secrets of Magnets

Welcome to my first “Science Answers” post! About a month ago, I sent out a post requesting science questions from all of you; you can find it here. This post addresses the first of the questions I was asked. If you have a question, you can ask it in the comments here or on that post, or ask it in an email. Or find me on Facebook!

And by the way…I do apologize for getting this post out so late. But here you are.

Q: What is magnetism? And what’s the difference between electromagnetism and the “magnetism” found in minerals? (asked by Simon)

So…let’s start with something most of us are familiar with.

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Can I just say, I’ve never seen a fridge with so many magnets?

Usually, the magnets in our lives serve practical purposes. In your typical household, these fridge magnets would be used to hold up notes, photos, recipes, etc. that you’d want to display in your kitchen.

(Of course, magnet collecting is a perfectly reasonable hobby, if the sheer variety on this fridge is any indication.)

Magnets are something we take for granted. But they are even more a part of our lives than we realize. Continue reading

Solar Eclipse Sights

This is adapted from a post I wrote for the wonderful Momma over at A Momma’s View. For the original version, click here.

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The total solar eclipse is an incredible phenomenon, one that I hope to see myself someday.

It isn’t often that an astronomical event occurs of such magnitude that people of all walks of life from all around the globe are drawn to one measly 65-mile wide strip of land, to crowd in like sardines as they watch the world change around them.

What’s important to realize about a total solar eclipse, versus just an annular one, is that it’s a people event.

Scientists do take this opportunity to study the sun’s corona, an outer layer of gases that’s usually too faint to be seen. But in general, this is an event for crowds to enjoy.

And enjoy it they do. I have never known another event of astronomical significance to populate the web and turn heads like a total solar eclipse.

But what happens during a solar eclipse? What can you expect to see, and how can you protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging rays? Continue reading

Elements and Compounds

 

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Recognize this?

This is the periodic table, and it’s pretty much the most important table in all of chemistry.

All the little boxes on this “table” are elements, the simplest form of matter. You literally can’t break these down further. What’s the difference between an element and a substance, you ask?

Okay, well, think of it this way. In my post on matter and its forms, I used water as an example of a substance. Water has its own physical and chemical properties, it’s not a mixture of anything, and no matter how many times you divide it up, you’ll still have the same thing.

But water can be divided up into different things chemically. Continue reading