Physics can be pretty mind-boggling, especially when you look at the laws that govern the quantum world. It can be easy to dismiss any news about physics as irrelvant to us, something for the scientists to worry about. But physics is at work all around us, in fascinating ways that we can sometimes take for granted.
The Good Human wants to remind you of just how incredible this planet is, by stopping and really thinking about phenomena that we accept as part of life, without really thinking about how they work. We have compiled a list of some of the most fascinating examples of physics at work in nature.
Let’s start with the spectacular light show that we witness from time to time during a storm. Lightning is a spectacle of nature that can have children and pets running for cover, while many adults hasten to the window to enjoy the display. While the production of lightning is not fully understood, we do know what must be happening inside the clouds prior to electrical discharge.
Storm clouds are a turbulent place, filled to bursting point with water droplets, ice particles and wind currents. Temperature differences in the water droplets cause some to rise, while others fall, creating the perfect environment for collisions. As the droplets and ice particles bash together, negative electrons are ripped off, separating them from the positively charged droplets.
Meanwhile, warm moisture is busy rising to the top of the cloud where it meets freezing temperatures at the higher altitude. This causes the droplets to cluster together, becoming negatively charged as they freeze solid and begin to sink. Positively charged water droplets are attracted to the frozen particles and surround the cluster.
As the cluster continues to sink, air currents knock the positively charged water droplets off, allowing them to rise again. Over time this can result in polarisation of the cloud, with a positive charge at the top and a negative charge at the bottom.
A statically charged cloud such as this begins to have an affect on the world around it. First of all the surrounding air undergoes a transformation, ionising as it’s components shed electrons. This leaves a conductive plasma made up of positive ions and free electrons.
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