Lightning is an atmospheric electrostatic discharge (spark) accompanied by thunder, which typically occurs during thunderstorms, and sometimes during volcanic eruptions or dust storms. From this discharge of atmospheric electricity, a leader of a bolt of lightning can travel at speeds of 220,000 km/h (140,000 mph), and can reach temperatures approaching 30,000 °C (54,000 °F), hot enough to fuse silica sand into glass channels known as fulgurites which are normally hollow and can extend some distance into the ground. There are some 16 million lightning storms in the world every year. Lightning causes ionisation in the air through which it travels, leading to the formation of nitric oxide and ultimately, nitric acid, of benefit to plant life below.
Scientists have studied root causes ranging from atmospheric perturbations (wind, humidity, friction, and atmospheric pressure) to the impact of solar wind and accumulation of charged solar particles. Ice inside a cloud is thought to be a key element in lightning development, and may cause a forcible separation of positive and negative charges within the cloud, thus assisting in the formation of lightning.
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