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New video reveals the science behind lightning rods and how they protect livelihoods

Two Brazilian scientists have captured lightning in action to show how lightning rods protect our buildings from lightning strikes.

New video reveals the science behind lightning rods and how they protect livelihoods
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 07: Fatih Mosque is seen as lightning strikes over the Istanbul skyline during a thunderstorm on May 7, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Lightning is a sight of tremendous awe and power, yet it can bring terrible destruction, costing billions of dollars of destruction annually. In order to prevent our buildings from this danger, lightning rods are used. These metal rods are placed at the highest point of the building, connected to the ground by wires. In the event of a strike, the lightning rod offers the quickest and safest path for electricity to flow through to the ground, protecting the building from harm.

For centuries, lightning rods have been used to protect from lightning strikes - however, due to the fast and violent nature of these strikes, it can be challenging to observe them. Two Brazilian scientists, Marcelo M.F. Saba, and Diego Rhamon R. da Silva, have been able to observe a lightning strike with the help of technology - they used a camera that takes 40,000 frames per second to capture the moment before the lightning strikes the rod and how it makes its way to the ground.

Image Source: Pexels/Pixabay
Image Source: Pexels/Pixabay


As believed by My Modern Met, the images captured by Saba and da Silva depict a type of lightning bolt known as leaders rising from the top of buildings, as if trying to meet thunderbolts from the storm halfway. These discharges are not exclusive to lightning rods, as mountaintops, buildings, and other tall objects emit these charges. The lead researcher warns that any person standing in an open area can similarly launch an upward connecting discharge from their head or shoulders and be injured by lightning even when not directly struck by it, reported by The New York Times.

Saba and da Silva captured 31 upward discharges rising from buildings in the area of São José dos Campos, São Paulo state, on a summer evening. The thunderbolt was traveling at an incredible 370 km per second. When it was only a few dozen meters from the ground level, lightning rods and tall objects on nearby buildings created positive discharges, attempting to connect to the downward strike. The final image of the scene was taken 25 millionths of a second before the lightning hit one of the buildings.

Image Source: Pexels/
Tsvetoslav Hristov
Image Source: Pexels/ Tsvetoslav Hristov


Saba and da Silva's footage showed numerous lightning rods in the vicinity, yet the lightning struck an unprotected smokestack, causing severe damage. It serves as a reminder of how powerful lightning can be and the importance of installing lightning rods properly. Lightning rods can't stop a thunderbolt from hitting a building, but they provide a safer route for the electricity to travel to the ground by offering the path of least resistance. It eliminates the risk of the building and its contents being subjected to the high currents and voltages associated with lightning strikes.



Saba and da Silva have provided us with invaluable insight into the importance of lightning rods. Properly installed lightning rods can protect buildings and their contents from the destructive force of lightning strikes without needing to be overly expensive or complicated. Thanks to the standards set by these scientists, we can be sure that our lightning rods are correctly installed and that our safety is considered.

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