Zooming around with Zoe: What’s stronger than lightning? ‘Superbolts’

Zooming Around With Zoe

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Every summer, thousands of lightning strikes are seen across the globe. But, new research has discovered a much stronger type of lightning more commonly seen in the winter.

Since the 1970s, a rare type of lightning, called “superbolts,” has been puzzling scientists, so much, so many believed they were interpreting the data wrong. But a recent study has proven this phenomenon not only exists but happens more often than once anticipated, with 8,000 strikes recorded from 2010 to 2018. 

“Superbolts” are the most powerful lightning on Earth, up to 1,000 times brighter and stronger than regular strikes. The discharge is so strong, it can’t even be reproduced in a laboratory. 

Unlike traditional lightning, these bolts are more common in winter, from November to February in the Northern Hemisphere. The biggest clusters are found in the Mediterranean Sea, Northeast Atlantic Ocean and Andes Mountain range. They also most commonly hit the ocean, which is surprising since about 90% of normal lightning hits land. 

Scientists still aren’t sure what causes superbolts, which make up less than one-thousandth of a percent of all global strikes.  They recently found these bolts are so powerful, their energy extends all the way to space. New research suggests their energy can reach anywhere from 10 billion to a trillion watts of electrical power — that’s enough to power the average American home for a whole month.

Luckily, these powerful superbolts very rarely hit land. If they did hit more frequently, we would definitely see a lot more damage compared to normal lightning.

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