Question

Why does air conduct electricity during lightning even if it is a very poor conductor of electricity?

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Why does air conduct electricity during lightning even if it is a very poor conductor of electricity?

This phenomenon can be explained by the principle of dielectric breakdown. During thunderstorms, the air between the cloud and the ground functions similarly to a capacitor. When the electric field becomes sufficiently intense, the air begins to partially ionize. Ionization introduces free electrons that are capable of carrying current, causing the air to become conductive.

When the potential difference (or voltage) between two points becomes extremely high, the stress on the insulator (in this case, air) increases significantly. For air, this intense stress leads to ionization.

Once the voltage developed in the cloud surpasses the threshold level that air can withstand, the charge discharges abruptly to the ground. This breaks the insulation property of air, which is observed as lightning.


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