What makes lightning strike in the shape it does?


I know in circuits lightning always goes in the path of least resistance. Does that apply here? What determines the shape of lighting that you see in pictures?

In: Physics

It is indeed the path of least resistance.

Keep in mind that the air is full of particles, some of which are better conductors than others. So the shape lightning takes is the path of the most conductive particles down to the ground.

To add to these comments, the path of least resistance is the vast majority of the time between one cloud and another, which is why most of what we see is sheet lightning rather than the classic forks we see in pictures.