VIDEO: Scientists in the US built a real lightning bolt using a rocket carrying copper wire

Scientists in the US wanted to study thunder, but first they needed lightning.

Specifically, lightning that struck where they wanted it to strike. So they rigged a rocket with a trailing length of copper wire and picked a good day in Florida when there was plenty of storm activity.

“Instead of waiting for a lightning strike, you bring lightning to you,” Southwest Research Institute’s Maher A. Dayeh of the said today at a press conference at the American Geophysical Union’s Joint Assembly in Montreal.

They really did. Look:

Dayeh says the experiment was the “first of its kind”, but he wasn’t talking about conducting lightning.

While that was the drawcard, the team are aiming to find out more about lightning’s significant other, thunder. In fact, they wanted to see it.

Fifteen microphones were places around the launch pad – “a special ear” – to collect the sounds that followed the purple flashes you see zigzagging toward the ground.

Dayeh processed those sounds, and after filtering some of the lower-frequency noise, he successfully captured this “picture” of thunder. You can see the lightning bolt on the left:

Picture: University of Florida, Florida Institute of Technology, and Southwest Research Institute

And those red swerves on the right are thunder.

Dayeh and the team hope this first picture of thunder is a start toward demystifying a phenomena largely experienced, but little understood.

And while the lightning looks the business for the media, taming it could also help understand how various parts of it branches out.

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