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Lichtenberg Figures: The Rare Scars Of Those Who Survived A Lightning Strike

Por: María Isabel11 de octubre de 2021

Chances of being struck by lightning are 1 in 500,000, still, those who have might end up with some impressive scars.

It seems that the comfort of our homes and our daily lives have made us forget about the dangers of nature. Of course, technological progress protects us more and more from these disasters, but they are still there, and carelessness or pure bad luck can make us victims of them. This is the case of lightning, large electrical discharges that occur during storms. Although it is very unusual to be struck by one, it is not impossible, and the marks they can leave on the body are both impressive and terrifying.

What is a lightning?

A lightning is an electrical discharge that occurs because of an imbalance between clouds and the ground. This means that objects on the ground, such as trees, become positively charged, while rain or ice particles in the clouds cause the positive charge to stay above the cloud, while the negative charge stays below.

Nature cannot withstand this imbalance for long, so it solves it by passing current between the two electrical charges, and then lightning is produced, which can reach temperatures of over 27,000 °C, five times hotter than the sun.

However, not all lightning strikes the ground, sometimes the discharge between streams happens in the clouds themselves, and we never know about them except by their sound.

Leaving their mark

Many people have suffered a lightning strike, and although 90% of people survive this encounter, that does not mean that they come out intact.

It is common for lightning strikes to cause serious effects on people's bodies, from convulsions, paralysis, and brain damage, to amnesia, severe burns, and cardiac arrest.

In addition, if the person survives the lightning strike, not only will they have an incredible story to tell, but the event will be marked on their skin for a couple of days as a testament to their good or bad luck, depending on how you look at it.

What are the Lichtenberg figures?

If you have ever watched a lightning strike in slow motion, you will notice that they are not straight lines from the cloud to the ground; but hundreds of distinct branches spreading across the sky.

These ramifications are known as 'Lichtenberg figures' thanks to Georg Lichtenberg, the German scientist who discovered them in 1777. They are also known as electrical arborescences because they resemble tree branches.

Just as we see them in photographs or images of bolts of lightning, the arborescences are marked on the bodies of people who were hit by electric discharges, as if they were tattoos made with the scarification technique.

However, they will not serve as permanent proof of the event, as the marks can last for days or just hours on your body, so they become an ephemeral reminder of your close encounter with death.

Although the danger of being struck by lightning is latent, it shouldn't be a reason to hide indoors, afraid of what might happen. After all, it's a decreasing possibility thanks to lightning rods protecting cities, so if you like to enjoy the rain, chances are you'll be safe.

Images from Ecoosfera

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