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Lightning is Complicated - Sixty Symbols

Sixty Symbols - 2018-04-06

Professor Mike Merrifield returns to the topic of weather - this time to discuss lightning.
More links and info below  ↓ ↓ ↓

Previous weather videos: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcUY9vudNKBNpsv8AWUvJxbOl6S2pw8so

Feynman Lectures online: http://www.feynmanlectures.caltech.edu

Professor Merrifield on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AstroMikeMerri

Antarctica Timelapse: https://youtu.be/o71TFQBTCG0

Visit our website at http://www.sixtysymbols.com/
We're on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sixtysymbols
And Twitter at http://twitter.com/sixtysymbols
This project features scientists from The University of Nottingham

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/sixtysymbols

Sixty Symbols videos by Brady Haran

Artwork by Pete McPartlan

Lightning shots courtesy of AP Archive: https://www.youtube.com/c/aparchive

Email list: http://eepurl.com/YdjL9

K Tell - 2018-04-08

Conspiracy theorists pay attention! This video demonstrates how scientists behave when something is not yet understood: 1) they don't try and hide it 2) they are both happy and excited because something we don't understand is something interesting and worth spending time on. If we understood everything the world would be a lot more boring.

Sterling Archer - 2019-03-18

This depends on the subject....Electric Universe as an example (specifically pertinent to this vid)

Whether you believe it or not (EU), the way it has been treated is horrendous. DE Scott published 2 papers for Electric Universe. The first, in 2014, provides an alt model to the accepted; Black holes, Big G and relativity. The second paper shows how this same model removes the requirement for Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

None of the more popular peer review journals would accept the work.

The first paper (Field Aligned Currents) has been submitted for 4-5 years now and it has not been disproven. In fact, it is getting largely ignored by Mainstream.

This shows that even when there is nothing wrong with the science, you are not guaranteed to be accepted. The more popular journals either read it and thought 'not a chance' or they disregarded it without reading it. Either is unacceptable and both suggest a dogmatic rather than objective mentality.

How often do you hear about new theories that are wild, almost unbelievable, yet they bolster or support the current interpretations? Time Crystals, String theory, LQG, Entanglement, multi-dimensions....

Anyone even heard of Field Aligned Currents? Or DE Scott?

Any time EU is mentioned it is shot down as pseudoscience. How many 'pseudoscientific' theories pass peer review?

And if there is no one trying to 'hide' or discredit certain knowledge, why is this not widely reported and still cited as pseudoscience, even 4 years on, when it is still not disproven? Why is it not on news? Einstein and Hawking possibly wrong? Even a foot note in a journal?

RUBBER BULLET - 2019-03-28

Conspiracy theorists pay attention! Never question mainstream science or any official narrative.

Mиемоиiа - 2019-03-29

Folks, pay attention! This is what a CIA plant looks like!

Luke Freeman - 2019-10-16

Sterling Archer EU is poorly defined, doesn’t use formal mathematics, ignores large chunks of existing theory, provides answers based on nothing and creates a whole host of other problems... yeah, EU isn’t the answer and the reason it’s treated badly is because at this point people are fed up of explaining why it’s useless to people that won’t listen.

461909S - 2020-03-09

Science is pure and neutral. Men often come with biases.
Culture typically harbors herd mentality and may often shun ingenuity, while our survival-of-the-fittest world encourages hoarding (e.g., scientific truth, information, technology, etc.).
This is not conspiracy. It is the petri dish we live in.

Kevin Hayes - 2018-04-07

I would love to see more videos on poorly understood/unexplained phenomena. This is the stuff that inspires new physics students.

BiologistVon Riemann - 2018-04-07

Exactly,I dislike teachers that try to pretend we understand everything.I find it more inspiring when I hear about things we don't know,because that is where possibly me and a new generation of scientists can make an impact.

Yamcha Dragonball - 2018-04-21

There are so many things we don't understand. Most of them are at the molecular or atomic level which means that it is hard to explain what it is we don't understand. Others are at a cosmological scale which has the same problem.

I promise you this: If you study any field of science you will learn the limitations of mankinds knowledge.

avinotion - 2019-11-07

This is the stuff that frustrates physics students who thought they could find an explanation, and never did.

anononomous - 2018-04-06

"...Is Complicated" would make a good series.

The Cheaterman - 2018-04-07

I agree! "XXX that we observed for thousands of years is still not fully understood" would be fantastic, and I'm sure there's quite a lot to say there!

Trias00 - 2018-04-07

Physics is complicated.

Ceelvain - 2018-04-09

This is kinda the opposite of what a vulgarization channel does. They usually show that seemingly complicated things aren't that complicated.
This would be the exact opposite. I love it.
10/10 would watch.

Skeleton Rowdie - 2018-04-29

i would like your comment if it were not for the 420 likes

J H - 2019-07-03

"Life... Is complicated"

M3grim - 2018-04-06

Excuse me, but this video ended 30 minutes before it should have. I still require more expansion and explanation.

filonin2 - 2018-04-07


VolodyA! V Anarhist - 2018-05-01

I have a feeling it ended a couple decades too early. They still need to figure it out.

Jordan Graupmann - 2018-11-09

And elaboration

MegaPetrof - 2018-04-06

“What makes the lightning think - alright, enough’s enough, I’m doin’ it.”

SharpLight - 2018-04-08

They don't even know what makes a single sub-atomic particle stand up and leave the atom, you expect them to figure out why lighting strikes!

Cordle Fhrichter - 2018-04-14

I was looking for this comment.

Arvind Sagar - 2019-03-09

@SharpLight Timmy the particle feel thats it for the anarchy, now he wants to rule so he stands up like a real man.

perroide cósmico - 2019-05-14

words to live by

Boco Corwin - 2019-10-20

These comments are eerily analogous to my father...

TheIdealGasLaw - 2018-04-06

Sooooo... What's with that positivly charged part of the cloud at the bottom? Did you think that I'd just forget about it Brady???!!?!

Fester Blats - 2018-10-23

Perhaps it is simply an effect of a previous lightning strike. If the underside of the cloud is negative, then why should it not end up positive after a strike? The whole purpose of a strike is to eliminate the negative charge from the cloud. It only seems logical that the location of the strike inside the cloud ends up not being negative anymore.

Sterling Archer - 2019-03-18

If the atmosphere itself is an energetic environment (we know it is), then polarisation would form between the - charge in the cloud and the immediate environment. The surrounding air/atmosphere would become + charged, or rather the + charge would increase as the - charge did.

Eliad654 - 2019-07-23

Maybe there isn't one? The textbook is from the 60's, maybe the lightning occurs just from the charge difference between the bottom of the cloud and the ground? You don't technically need one and also if any ice crystals came down from the top, they'd rub into stuff on their way down as well, and I have no clue if this would even out their charge to neutral or make their positive charge stronger.

Eliad654 - 2019-07-23

@Fester Blats That makes lots of sense as well :-)

IceMetalPunk - 2019-09-02

@Fester Blats Well, the strike should leave the underside neutral, not positively charged. The whole point of static discharge is to reach equilibrium, not to shift the imbalance in the opposite direction.

Shankar Sivarajan - 2018-04-07

I was struggling to figure out how lightning works… then it struck me.

Özgür Kesim - 2018-04-06

All attempts of rationalizing Zeus' temperament are doomed to fail.

Roger Lie - 2018-04-06

Thor begs to disagree.

Ol' Bluelips - 2018-04-07

That's not the same mythology!

鋼の無神論者:The Fullmetal Atheist - 2018-04-24

Science once again proves that Zeus exists! Ha! take that in your face you azeuists morons!

Matthew Wilkens - 2019-03-11

Zues and Thor share lightning bolts during thunderstorms. One is being positive the other is being negative. I've seen it. I've seen the light...ning.

Jonas Thörnvall - 2018-04-06

Actually it is kind of liberating hearing a physicist admit that there is alot of handwaving incorporated in the argument/theory.
I think it is exciting that alot of things still poorly understood in physics, that means there is knowledge to gain and areas to explore..

Jonas Thörnvall - 2018-04-06

A small thunder machine /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\ I was just smart enough to guess as long i can keep the imbalance between the electrons covering the surfaces going it would spinn forever.

IceMetalPunk - 2019-09-02

All science takes place at the border of the known and the unknown. If everything was unknown, then the science isn't working, but if everything was known, there'd be no science left to do :) Science is literally about living at that border and shifting it farther with every discovery.

RBuckminsterFuller - 2018-04-06

Not even Wikipedia?!?! I've never heard of such a thing.

J. Armando Valle - 2018-04-06

Not enough energy

GreenDemon125 - 2018-04-07

Not even a WIKIPEDIA?!? Alright, enoughs enough, I'm doing it

Archangel Raphael - 2018-04-14

lightning linked to earthly gamma rays is still a fairly recent addition to our tool kit
some text books need to be burned

oneofspades - 2018-04-28

Wiki has the answers just not always the right answers.

Chris - 2018-04-30

Now how can you go and tell us about how the universe works, when you dont even know these simple mechanisms in your own back yard. Electromagnetism is probably far more important than gravity and you have completely left that out of astronomy. Bunch of Idiots!

Paul Paulson - 2018-04-06

Lets point a particle accelerator at a cloud and create lightning!

Damian Reloaded - 2018-06-25

It's probably just the wind that arranges the gas in a way that creates a channel for the charge to flow. It might even be storm clouds contain dust/metallic particles and the lighting travels across these particles when they get arranged in a certain way by the wind. I say this as an educated guess because I know silver iodine is used for cloud seeding and there is lighting in dust storms on Earth and in the atmosphere of Mars too.

sidharth cs - 2018-10-05

laughs in evil

MrBonners - 2018-11-03

@bluerizlagirl It could just as easily be dependant how much dust is in the air and the conductive properties and density of the dust content materials in the air. Electromagnetic Theory of Propagation . Electrical field makes a magnetic field makes a electrical field make a ....and so on. The Earth's constantly moving magnetic field hits a cloud and makes a electrical field that spikes the cloud electrical fields and it discharges.

MrBonners - 2018-11-03

Accelerator's deal with much smaller particles at much higher levels of electrical and magnetic power.

Hans Dampf - 2018-11-04

an accelerator is a ring... you know, it's hard to point in one direction when you are a ring!

Chris Williams - 2018-04-06

This subject deserves another video it's so interesting!

NaN - 2018-04-06

Blasphemy, it's Thor swinging his hammer onto the clouds.

srelma - 2018-04-08

NaN right. That's the missing piece. It's Thor who's saying:"enough is enough, I'm doing it"

Yamcha Dragonball - 2018-04-21

'tis the rage of Zeus.
I challenge you to duel at dawn, heretic.

NaN - 2018-04-21

Let Zeur and Thor fight it out among themselves. Winner takes all.

Nebojsa Bogicevic - 2018-04-06

Professor , a galaxy 10 billion years away - peace of cake. A stormy cloud complicated, tricky.... lol

naramoro - 2018-04-06

Alright. Enough's enough.
I'm doing it!

wine cheese - 2018-04-06

Lol, i had to imagine a thunderstorm saying that.

roy k - 2018-04-11

hold my beer - lightning

Marius687 - 2018-04-06

Would love to hear what he has to say about blue jets and red sprites. Please make a video about that.

Daniel Jensen - 2018-04-06

Marius687 They're initiated in the top of a cloud and go up towards the ionosphere. Because the air is really thin and conductivity is low the leaders spread out to 10's of meters across instead of a few centimeters at the ground. That's about all I know, but it seems to just be a casual interest of his so he probably wouldn't have much more to say about it.

ToyFREAKS - 2018-04-12

Could there be some correlation between sprites and solar radiation?

Daniel Jensen - 2018-04-12

ToyFREAKS It might not affect the incidence much but when sprites did occur solar activity would certainly affect their behavior, since solar radiation affects the conductivity of the upper atmosphere.

Dordoka Maisu - 2018-04-06


Tim Grohmann - 2018-04-06

9:32 In the German language, we use "Graupel" in (almost) everyday speech when describing rain that's almost but not quite hail. I do love linguistics sometimes.

WanJae42 - 2018-04-07

Tim Grohmann In the US, the term is used commonly in the weather and aviation communities, but not so much everyday life.

Brennuvargr - 2018-04-08

We use the term "graupel" here in England to describe the same phenomenon, though it's only really used by weather geeks. :)

frowning Joker - 2018-04-09

I also love linguini.

Gunslinger 11B - 2018-04-23

I have found that skiers here in the US use the term as well.

pjd412 - 2019-07-24

It was formerly called "snow pellets". A intermediary between sleet and snow.

Asako Ichihara - 2018-04-07

I like all of your videos, but this felt particularly brilliant. I really love the way Mike talks about stuff, and seemingly gets so excited about not knowing, and the fact it is so complicated and we haven't figured it out yet. Fabulous. Do more like this.

Anjishnu - 2018-04-06

Is the ground considered positive relative to the electrons at the bottom of the clouds, or is it actually positive i.e. deficit in electrons?

Joo Jingle - 2018-10-08

there's always the induction theory, which says the build of negative charge in the cloud causes the ground to become ionized.

Toughen Up, Fluffy - 2018-10-31


Toughen Up, Fluffy - 2018-10-31

Earth's surface is largely silicate minerals with electron lattices that allow charge separation. I guess...

Pounce Baratheon - 2018-11-04

​@Daniel Jensen I'm curious about another possible mechanism causing the Earth's positive charge. Essentially any interaction between objects has a chance of knocking off electrons or positive ions. But ions, even free protons, are much more massive and less likely to escape the atmosphere. The analogy here is Jupiter which has a rocky core whose composition is similar to Earth's, but about 15 times the mass. It turns out that extra mass is enough to keep hydrogen (which is very light and so has a faster RMS velocity than say oxygen or nitrogen) from escaping the atmosphere, and since it's the most abundant element, Jupiter became 1,000 times the mass of Earth instead of 15 times.
If true of electrons it would be a small effect but build up over time. There would also be an equilibrium point where the positive charge at the surface was enough to balance the probability of an electron escaping with that of a positive ion, so the Earth would maintain a very slight positive charge but not continue to build charge beyond that.
I also think what you said about the negatively charged clouds causing a locally positive region on the surface below through electrostatic induction is probably right. If not for what the professor said in the video, I'd have assumed that was the sole mechanism at play here.

David White - 2019-07-18

woowooNeedsFaith It does . As a previous commenter said , it’s about 100V/meter at the surface .

Sage Derby - 2019-05-13

"we really don't know x or we can't understand why" auto captions...

SteelWarrior115 - 2018-04-06

Hi, I'm on the team at auburn university that is building sattelites to send up and measure gamma rays from high altitude thunderstorms so this was a video of great interest

Daniel Jensen - 2018-04-06

You didn't happen to work with Dr. Sonnenfeld from New Mexico Tech did you? I know he was somewhere in that part of the country working on some lightning related satellite stuff in the summer of 2016.

FerretyBus55 - 2018-04-06

I think the reason we don't know why thunder strikes is because no scientist has ever asked AC/DC.

heyandy x - 2018-04-06

in a society where science and tech are king, it is fascinating to learn that we still don't understand such a fundamental effect. it makes me think of math conjectures that defy solution for centuries - fermat's last theorem, the collatz conjecture, "squaring the circle." it's inspiring to think that someone in this comments section could join a team and be part of a scientific breakthrough.

Christopher Kiefer - 2018-04-27


Roi Jose A. Redor - 2018-05-03

We understand what we perceive. We really dont know what else is in there

Jordan Graupmann - 2018-11-09

Christopher Kiefer scientists aren’t trying to study storms enough to be able to predict when and where a lightning bolt will strike, they’re just trying to understand the fundamental mechanics

Jordan Graupmann - 2018-11-09


pyropulse - 2020-03-06

@Karl Young Squaring the circle has been 'solved' via proving it to be impossible.

Bugra Engin - 2018-04-08

"Why is the ground positively charged?" :) Keep asking these questions. I just love them. The more, the better our understanding. Thanks a lot for these videos by the way - I appreciate it!

SlideRulePirate - 2018-04-07

"It's all down to Astronomy really isn't it".

Simultaneously enjoyable and frustrating.

Happy Bear - 2018-04-06

Fantastic video, thank you. I shall obsess over this for a wile I'm sure.

jakejakeboom - 2018-04-07

Would've been nice to give ball lightning a mention!

Trench777 - 2018-04-07

Lightning: "Ok, enough's enough....hold my beer"

VeroMithril - 2018-04-08

0:44 This lighting made a heart in the upper right corner <3

cuteypetz - 2018-04-07

Alleyn's?? as in, Dulwich Alleyn's?? damn i didn't know Merrifield came from my neck of the woods!

B G - 2018-04-06

And Pr Merrifield hasn't even started to talk about upper atmosphere results of lightning discharges !

Allan.Froehlich - 2018-12-12

Two things to think about:
"Kelvin's Thunderstorm" and the influence of a capacitor on a spark ignition system.

Disco Steve - 2019-04-15

Feynman Lectures <3

Dallas Stamm - 2020-02-27

"We really don't know X or we can't understand Y", Best unintentional math joke ever.

Facey Neck - 2018-04-30

This has been one of the most educational and enjoyable videos I've seen in a long time. Great work, y'all! :-)

Upcycle Electronics - 2018-04-07

8:10 Static electricity = molecular clapping monkeys
Note to monkeys: leave my FETs alone pls 🙈

Shankar Sivarajan - 2018-04-07

12:53 This theory is called "Runaway Breakdown," proposed in 1992, by Gurevich et al.

Faceless - 2018-04-07

"Electron" comes from "Ήλεκτρο".......never realized that until now....

sidharth cs - 2018-10-05

I had my second semester examination.
Nearly got fried by a lightning bolt

Grumpy - 2018-04-08

Amazing such a simple thing still has a few mysteries :)

Doctor Luk - 2018-04-06

I love the reaction at 13:11 :) So geniune from both of you!

naiskolben - 2018-04-08

'ok that's enough, i'm doing it' 😀

Feynstein 100 - 2018-04-07

At 1:01 try spotting Neville Longbottom 😂😂

Rafael Santos - 2018-04-06

next you're gonna tell me Zeus shooting bolts from the clouds is as valid as any of these hypotheses!

gutspraygore - 2018-05-08

"If you think you understand lightning, you don't understand lightning."
-Richard Feynman

But not that Richard Feynman. The other one.

Ace0077 - 2018-04-23

This uncertainity remindes me of the "electric universe" theory

scowell - 2019-06-16

Love Professor Merrifield, always ready for more of him!

Starship Enterprises - 2018-04-06

Another fantastic video. I am loving animated mike the weatherman. :)

hellothere11 - 2018-04-27

I've been following this channel for years, and this is my favorite video in a long time! It's fascinating to hear about how much is not known about static electricity and the magnitude at which that process affects the Earth on the macroscopic scale. It makes me wonder how active research there is going on related to static electricity, considering it must come into play to some extent in many many cases when studying physical phenomena.