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Lightning Shapes

Like many of the shapes in nature, lightning strikes are fractals. Fractals are shapes that are 'wrinkly' instead of being made from perfect lines and curves. Fractals stay wrinkly no matter how close to them you get, the more you magnify a fractal, the more wrinkles you see.


Lightning consists of a single jagged path between the cloud and the ground. This path forms step-by-step as the air is turned into plasma. Each step goes in a slightly different direction to the step before, and the result is the familiar jagged path of lightning.

Forked Lightning
Often lightning has a branched shape known as forked lightning. This happens when two or more return strokes follow slightly different paths.

Ribbon Lightning
Wind can change the shape of lightning. Ribbon lightning is formed when strong winds spread out the plasma channel of a lightning strike.

Bead Lightning
Bead lightning does not disappear all at once. Instead, small 'beads' of lightning remain for a short while after the rest of the lightning strike disappears. Some people think that bead lightning occurs when a lightning strike is seen edge on. Some people think it is related to ball lightning.

Forked lightning
magnifyForked lightning

Ribbon lightning
magnifyRibbon lightning

Bead lightning
magnifyBead lightning
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