Hotter Than The Sun

In terms of temperature, which of the following is hottest?

And the answer: lightning.

Photo credit: Thomas Bresson, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

According to NASA, lightning is four times hotter than the surface of the sun. The air around a stroke of lightning can peak at 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, while the surface of the sun is around 11,000 degrees. Meanwhile, magma can reach temperatures near 2,100 degrees.

Earth’s air is a very poor conductor of electricity, and so it gets very hot when lightning passes through it. And, though these bolts only last milliseconds, the strikes produce very strong bursts of energy, making lightning one of the strongest natural phenomena on earth.

Interestingly (yet somewhat unsurprisingly), these great bursts of energy come from the sun. The sun heats up the earth’s surface, which results in differential heating. This means that one area is warmer than another, and warm air rises since it's less dense.

Fun fact!

Technically speaking, lightning is the movement of electrical charges and doesn’t have a "temperature." Heat is actually produced when electricity flows through resistance, and because air is a very good insulator, there is quite a bit of resistance. As a result, it's the surrounding air that gets very hot.


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