Why does lightning zigzag?  |  Live learning

Why does lightning zigzag? | Live learning

Why does lightning zigzag?  |  Live learning

Lightning strikes along the coast of Trieste in Italy and the Adriatic Sea. (Image credit: Jure Batagelj / 500px via Getty Images)

Lightning can light up the sky with a bright flash and take all sorts of shapes, but if you were to draw one, you would almost certainly draw a zigzag. But what gives lightning bolts that branchy shape? Why does lightning zigzag across the sky instead of shooting in a straight line between the thundercloud and the ground?

Many of the mechanisms behind lightning remain a mystery, although researchers are beginning to unravel the causes of lightning’s curvature. “We know all about most things about Earth scientists can predict [lunar and solar] eclipses with an accuracy of a fraction of a second” John Lowke (opens in a new tab), a physicist at the University of South Australia and lead author of a study examining the “stepped pattern” of lightning, told Live Science. “But there are still great mysteries about plain old lightning.”

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