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Weather Academy: Shocking Lightning Experiments

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 5:07 PM CDT
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - Last week on the Weather Academy, we learned about positive and negative charges during a thunderstorm and how that creates lightning. And this week, we’re going to do some simple experiments to show how lightning works on a small scale.

What you’ll need:

  • Balloons
  • An aluminum can
  • Scarps of paper
  • Sugar

For the first experiment, we are going to rub the balloon on our heads. This will cause the balloon to become negatively charged and for our hair to become positively charged. Things of opposite charges attract. That’s why our hair will stand up once you lift the balloon over your head. The negative charges in the balloon are attracted to the positive charges in our hair.

But what about things with a neutral charge? We have laid out in front of us an aluminum can, some scraps of paper, and lots of sugar. All of these items have a neutral charge so let’s see what happens when we introduce our negatively charged balloon. We will be rubbing the balloon on our heads to build up a big negative charge.

Let’s start with the aluminum can. As you can see, we should be able to pull the can to the edge of the table using the balloon. The scraps of the neutrally charged paper should try to attach themselves to the negatively charged balloon. The same thing goes for sugar. The neutrally charged sugar will try to lift and stick to the balloon.

If we take these examples and apply them to what Sheena taught us last week, the balloon is acting like our clouds. The friction of us rubbing the balloon against our heads represents the friction of the different particles colliding in the cloud during a thunderstorm.

The negative charges move towards the bottom of the cloud, which is what is happening with the balloon as it becomes negatively charged. The charges in the cloud want to equalize themselves with the positive and negative charges on the ground. Remember that the trees, buildings, and even people all have neutral and positive charges. Opposite charges attract, and the electricity jumps from the cloud to the ground, just like how in this experiment, the electricity is jumping from the balloon to the sugar or the paper. This attraction represents lightning on a smaller scale, and it’s the same thing that happens when you shock yourself on the doorknob.

Remember, if you try any of these experiments at home, submit your photos and videos to be featured in next week’s Weather Academy segment!

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