Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Color of Lightening

First, please do not try to view lightening bolts while standing outside. Be safe and view from inside only. Joe Murgo is a scientist who answers questions. The email link is below if there are things you want to know which only Joe can answer.

"There are multiple reasons as to why the lightning can appear as different colors, some can be more complicated that others. Let me first start off as to why the majority of lightning appears white. Lightning is extremely hot, thousands of degrees, which can be equivalent to the temperature on the surface of the sun. Anything that hot will emit all different waves of electromagnetic radiation, including all of the main colors of visible light. The sun emits all colors equally too, and if we take away the effects of molecules of air, the color of this light would be white. Separated, we can see all of the colors of the spectrum like in a rainbow. An easy way to remember the colors of a rainbow is to remember the name Roy G. Biv. This stands for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. (I like this info to help students remember easily) The Roy colors are of a longer wavelength and are created with a cooler temperature than the Biv. This is why an electric stove that heats will first change to a reddish color, but then turns white the warmer it gets.
The light from a lightning bolt is the same as the sun, but like the sun, air molecules and water droplets can separate the colors out a bit. When there is a lot of haze and water vapor in the air, only the longer wavelength colors make it to your eye unless you are very close to the lightning. This will create a more reddish lightning strike. The same process will help to enhance a red sunrise or sunset when there are a lot of particles in the air. A reason for bluish or purple lightning is when a lightning bolt is close and bright, but with a lot of water in the air. This creates more of an illumination of blue around the bolt, and why I think you noticed the bluish and purple lightning. Even though you saw a bluish color, other people that were at more of a distance from that same lightning, probably would have observed a reddish color. What happened to the blue that you saw? The blue light will scatter so much before reaching the eyes of those distant observers."
If you have a question about the weather, you can write to Joe Murgo at 5000 6th Ave., Altoona, PA 16602 or email him at Some questions will be answered here and all of the questions will be entered in a contest to be shown on WTAJ News at 5pm.

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