Eli5: How do you measure the temperature of lighting bolts?


Can the temperature of a lightning bolt be measured if there is no resistance (a tree, the ground)? If so, what temperature are lightning bolts?

In: 0

Yes, you can measure the temperature of a lightning bolt. Technically, you’re measuring the temperature of the plasma that’s left of the air after the lightning bolt ripped all the molecules apart and ionized everything. Typical lightning temperatures are in the 10s of thousands of degF ([https://www.weather.gov/safety/lightning-temperature](https://www.weather.gov/safety/lightning-temperature)).

There is still resistance…trees, air, the ground are not superconductors. Ionized air is a *far* better conductor of electricity than regular air, which is why the current spikes so high once the lightning bolt finds a path.

It’s not like lightning bolts travel through vacuum, there is air.

If you get a spectrometer to look at the lightning bolt you can deduce the temperature through the wavelength where the maximum is.

Because you know what molecules are in the air. You can observe the lightning bolt and see what colors of light it emits, based on the colors of light generated you can determine its temperature.